By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The criteria has already been established for the next president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League: a person who can advance economic goals for African-Americans in the city and also be a voice for social justice and police reform.
For many civic and community leaders, that versatile role has been demonstrated effectively by Michael Lawson in his five years of guiding the L.A. Urban League.
After Lawson announced his plans to retire by the end of the year, the L.A. Urban League is in the market for a new executive to advance the organization’s services and impact in the community.
“Michael has been an outstanding leader for the Urban League,” said Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “He set the ship right. I’m hopeful they bring in someone who can keep the mission intact.”
Lawson has not given the L.A. Urban League board of directors an actual date for when he’s officially leaving the organization. Board chair Elliot Hinds labeled Lawson’s remaining time as “flexible.” Hinds said Lawson has agreed to stay on until his successor has been hired, which Hinds anticipates will be in the fall.
“We’re going to start the formal job search process in June,” said Hinds, an energy transactions attorney with the Sheppard Mullin Law Firm in Los Angeles. “The search committee has a lot of work to do before then to get ready for that process. In the meantime, we’ll be posting the position.”
The L.A. Urban League is planning to conduct a national search for Lawson’s successor with the assistance of the National Urban League office in New York City. Hinds said he’s anticipating strong interest for the position, which is why the search committee needs a few weeks to prepare before fielding formal inquiries.
Hinds and the other 27 L.A. Urban League board members appointed a six-member committee to conduct the search. Leading the committee is board member Angela Reddock-Wright, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles and labor law mediator. Hinds said Reddock-Wright is leading a committee that will submit finalists and the ultimate choice to board members for a vote.
“We are so pleased Angela has taken on this role for us,” Hinds said of Reddock-Wright. “We want to be thoughtful and diligent in this process.”
Reddock-Wright’s role could have a historical impact on the L.A. Urban League. The organization has not had a female president/CEO since it was founded by Katherine Barr in 1921.
Barr is on record as the organization’s first female president/CEO after the Tuskegee Industrial Welfare League merged with the National Urban League. Under Barr, the organization became known as the Los Angeles Urban League.
Hinds, a board member with the L.A. Urban League for eight years, is aware of the gender gap in the organization’s top position.
“We’ll be identifying the best qualified person for the job, but it’s certainly on our minds that it’s been awhile [since] a female has led the organization,” Hinds said. “Female candidates will definitely get serious consideration.”
Lawson is leaving at a time when the L.A. Urban League says it is financially stable and benefitting from increasing support from corporations and individual donors. The organization’s annual Whitney M. Young Awards Dinner on May 18 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel is sold out. Bishop T.D. Jakes will be the keynote speaker.
Landing a commitment from Jakes, in addition to the growth and stability of the L.A. Urban League, will be among the many highlights of Lawson’s legacy, some observers say.
“On behalf of a grateful city, we just want to say thank you,” Capri Maddox, executive director of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Commission, said in reference to Lawson. “Michael leveled out the Urban League and made sure it remained a viable and impactful organization for our community.”
Before joining the L.A. Urban League, Lawson earned a law degree from Harvard and was a partner in the law firm of Skaden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Hinds said Lawson’s successor does not need to have a legal background, but one additional criteria will be important.
“The person needs to have strong connections in L.A.,” Hinds said. “They don’t have to be living in L.A. at the moment, but if they want to come home, we’re certainly interested.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer to The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.