Personality: Shemicia L. Bowen

Spotlight on board chair of the Urban League of Greater Richmond

1/13/2022, 6 p.m.
At a time of change and need locally, statewide and nationally, a 100-year-old advocacy organization in Richmond is in the ...

At a time of change and need locally, statewide and nationally, a 100-year-old advocacy organization in Richmond is in the midst of a revival, courtesy of Shemicia L. Bowen.

The Richmond resident is the newest chair of the Urban League of Greater Richmond’s board of directors, and she’s hard at work to re-establish the organization as a force for change and progress.

It’s an endeavor Ms. Bowen is committed to seeing through, and her enthusiasm is clear even as she recovers from a severe case of the flu.

“Even in its hiatus, I have been the chief cheerleader of the Urban League,” Ms. Bowen says.

Formed nationally in 1910, the Urban League’s Richmond branch was started in Jackson Ward in 1913. Its mission then and today is to help African-Americans and others in underserved communities to achieve equal opportunity, economic self-reliance and civil rights. These goals are achieved through programs and collaborations in the areas of education and job training, housing and community development, workforce development, entrepreneurship and health.

Nationally, the Urban League has 90 affiliates in 36 states and the District of Columbia. In Virginia, there are three affiliates – the Urban League of Greater Richmond, which includes Petersburg, and branches in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Ms. Bowen joined the Richmond chapter in 2007. But, she says, the local affiliate “had not been functioning for several years” recently. The office on Hull Street closed and its last full-time CEO retired.

But in her volunteer position as president of the Urban League Young Professionals from 2012 to 2014, she got to see what other affiliate organizations were accomplishing and she realized the untapped potential in Greater Richmond and Petersburg.

“While in awe of the progress and leadership of those cities, the glaring absence of the UL was obvious to me,” Ms. Bowen says, adding that fueled her desire to help reinvigorate the Richmond affiliate.

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice issues arising and spotlighted since 2020, “It was even more evident that the need of this organization was as relevant today as it was 100 years ago,” she says.

Her chief goals as board chairwoman are to establish a new and permanent headquarters in Richmond and develop a leadership training program focused on advocacy, civic skill-building and economic empowerment.

She also wants to re-establish collective partnerships with local nonprofits focused on education, health, housing, lobbying and human rights.

“There always is a need, and we need to stop looking at temporary fixes and put in some long-term strategies,” Ms. Bowen says. “Until then, the Urban League will be here to support the city of Richmond. “

Meet an energetic community advocate and leader and this week’s Personality, Shemicia L. Bowen:

No. 1 volunteer position: Chairwoman, Board of Directors, Urban League of Greater Richmond.

Occupation: Fiber infrastructure and telecommunications project manager; entrepreneur and co-founder of the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience.

Where I live now: Richmond, south of the James River.

Education: Public administration, Virginia State University.

Family: Mother of two.

Urban League of Greater Richmond is: Critically important. During the past decade, the Richmond affiliate has re-organized and re-imaged how it serves the community. Historically, the Urban League enables African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity and power and civil rights. In Richmond, the Urban League provided services and programs in education, employment, health and housing to Richmond and Petersburg through direct services, advocacy, research, policy analysis, community mobilization and collaboration throughout communities.

As a part of our path forward, the Urban League will focus on advocacy and civic and community engagement though education and policy reform.

When and why the National Urban League was founded: The National Urban League was founded in 1911 in New York City to provide assistance to African-Americans to further the dual tenets of economic and social justice. Initially founded as a social service organization to aid African-Americans’ resettlement in the North during the Great Migration, the National Urban League evolved into lobbying businesses, labor unions and the government and endorsing direct-action protest during the Civil Rights Movement. During the Civil Rights era, the National Urban League was part of the “Big Six” collective, including labor organizers, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; the Congress of Racial Equality; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the NAACP.

When and why UL founded in Richmond: The Richmond affiliate was founded in Jackson Ward in 1913, and was among the original charter chapters in the National Urban League. Chapters started to open in the South as like a reclamation of some of those historically Black cities.

Richmond founders: A pioneer in the local Urban League movement was Eugene Kinckle Jones, a Richmond native who became one of the original initiates and founders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., at Cornell University. In 1918, he became executive director of the National Urban League and sought to service African-Americans by increasing their chances in gaining employment and providing support in such areas as housing, education and health. His influence was so vast that he became a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Black Cabinet.” Other prominent Richmonders with legacy roots to the Urban League are Maggie L. Walker and John Mitchell Jr.

Why the Urban League of Greater Richmond is important in our community: Richmond and Petersburg’s challenges include food and housing insecurities and the disparate educational resources are distinctive and disproportionate in communities of color.

We believe students, parents and community leaders should be involved in education, job readiness, skill building and policy reform that expands and deepens opportunities for families, fills gaps in resources for Virginians, accelerates progress and delivers more fully on the promise of equity and civil liberties for all.

When elected board chair: The current board was installed in March 2021 for a two-year term.

No. 1 goal or project as chair: Establish a new and permanent Urban League headquarters in Richmond; develop the A.C.E. Leadership Program, a training program focused on Advocacy, Civic skills building and Entrepreneurship/Economic empowerment; and to re-establish collective partnerships with local nonprofits whose work involves education, physical and mental wellness, housing, legislative policy lobbying and human rights.

How the Urban League of Greater Richmond is making an impact on the community: Our Young Professionals garnered new business relationships during the pandemic to include Ardent Brewery. Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals received a portion of their Stronger than Hate beer sales. Collaborations included Fit for Kids, Black Lives Matter 804, Voice for Virginia’s Children and Party at the Mailbox, a Get Out The Vote initiative.

UL established a relationship with Richmond Public Schools. The Rich Lit Program will create home libraries for pre-K students, establish digital awareness and literacy for middle schoolers and financial literacy for high school students.

How the Urban League of Greater Richmond seeks to remain relevant: More than 50 years after the federal Voting Rights Act, the Urban League champions the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that would strengthen voting rights by expanding and strengthening the government’s ability to respond to voting discrimination. The For the People Act incorporates key measures that are urgently needed, including automatic voter registration and other steps to modernize our elections; a national guarantee of free and fair elections without voter suppression, coupled with a commitment to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

How to become involved with the Urban League of Greater Richmond: If ages 21 to 45, membership is available with the Urban League of Greater Richmond Young Professionals. Our website is www.empowerrichmond.org

Upcoming events: Urban League Day on the Hill, a lobby day, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21. And HBCU Scholarship Ball, 6 p.m. April 26, at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.

A perfect day is: Quiet.

What I am learning about myself during the pandemic: During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to re-evaluate how I use time and space. I combatted the pressure to have a full calendar of events and calls. While in pseudo isolation, I learned to appreciate the quiet moments. I am more introverted than people would expect. I have learned to do less and yield more.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I like to read the French version of instructions. I took seven years of French and rarely use it. “Je suis un nerd.”

Quote that inspires me: “The sun does not ask permission to shine, neither do I.”

Friends describe me as: Everybody’s mother — generous, nurturing, frugal, savvy, ambitious and knows how to get to “Yes!”

At the top of my “to-do” list: Live in gratitude, honor history and blaze an formidable future for biological and communal families.

Best late-night snack: Pre-braces, peanut M&Ms. Now, ice cream.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: Money management (when I thought we didn’t have any). I understood early the value of money, fiscal responsibilities, assets versus liabilities and how to manage credit.

Person who influenced me the most: Collectively “The Women” — the Black women were my first examples of strength, power and beauty that I saw in my family, as well as the teachers and the community where I lived.

Book that influenced me the most: “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

What I’m reading now: I’m re-reading “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine” by Bebe Moore Campbell.

Next goal: Develop new programs and establish a permanent headquarters for the Urban League of Greater Richmond; pen this book that’s been in my head for years; and add value to wherever I am.