In September 1963, 24-year-old Talmadge Willard Fair joined the Urban League as an assistant director for education and employment programs. A month later, he became the youngest executive director in the history of the Urban League.
When he took over the Miami chapter, the young South Carolina native believed that Miami’s black community was suffering from not just neglect by the larger community — which manifested itself in poverty and poor living conditions in the “Negro Central District,” as Overtown was called back then, but by a paucity of anger. “I didn’t understand why if I was mad, and I just got here, why everyone else wasn’t as mad as I was,” Fair said.
Over the next 47 years, the Urban League of Greater Miami, under Fair’s leadership, desegregated the retail, airline, banking and other industries in Miami — placing the first Black airline stewardess at Eastern Airlines, and the first Black telephone and utility workers at Southern Bell and FPL.
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“We set about taking advantage of affirmative action programs,” Fair said, “which said that even if they didn’t want to, these industries had to hire Blacks. But they needed a partner, and so we very aggressively worked to place people in those jobs.”
Fair said the key to being able to find qualified workers and trainees for the new opportunities opening up for Black Miamians was education.
“We had a belief in the Black community at that time that education was important,” Fair said. “We couldn’t have placed people in those jobs if we had not had that foundation in educational achievement as a fundamental part of the Black community.”
Fair laments that that same respect for education has been eroded in the Black community, which he says was eroded by social welfare programs that replaced a culture of achievement with a culture of dependency.
“If you believe you’re not gonna be anything, then you don’t need to learn anything,” Fair said. “Black people have always had work as a foundation, but when you take away the work ethic, you take away the achievement ethic too. We have to get back to a place where achievement matters. We have to begin to tell our children that education is not just important, it’s vital to their survival.”
The Miami Urban League’s education programs reach thousands of children each year, through after school tutoring, in-school educational activities, and by partnering with other non-profits, and with Miami-Dade Schools to connect children and parents to educational opportunities. In 2010, the League adopted West Little River Elementary, and is working to help that school improve its outreach to parents, and through them, to improve the outcomes for their children.
Fair says educational attainment is the civil rights struggle of the modern era.
“It’s a struggle we must win,” said Fair, who also serves as the chairman of the State Board of Education, and who in October was honored with a 2010 Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). “If we fail, or our children will perish, and our communities will perish.”
The Urban League of Greater Miami, its staff and volunteers, are determined not to let that happen.
Celebrating its successes and looking to the future
On Saturday, October 30, the Urban League of Greater Miami will commemorate its 67th birthday and T. Willard Fair’s 47 years leading the agency, with a day-long series of events, culminating in a community celebration called Family Day.
From 11 a.m. to 12:30, the League will host a community gathering to discuss the priorities for the League and the community for the “next 100 years.” It’s part of the National Urban League’s centennial series of celebrations. The event will take place at Covenant Palms, located adjacent to the Urban League at 8400 NW 24th Avenue, Miami 33147.
From 12:30 to 2:00, the League will hold a luncheon for past and present employees, service recipients, sponsors, board members and friends of the Miami Urban League. Also, T. Willard Fair will honor 12 local “women of courage” who have helped him in his mission to serve the community and children of Liberty City.
And from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the entire community is invited to an Urban League Family Day Celebration, to be held in the Urban League parking lot at 8500 NW 25th Avenue, featuring food, music and prizes from Hot 105, free health screenings, vendors, and opportunities to talk to service providers, and to view the service offerings of our event sponsor, Assurance Wireless.
For more information, contact Urban League Media at 954-558-9762 or contact the ULGM office at 305-6969-4450
IF YOU GO:
Who: Urban League of Greater Miami
What: Family Day anniversary celebration
When: Saturday, October 30, 2010, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Where: Urban League of Greater Miami, 8500 NW 25th Avenue, Miami 33147 (305) 696-4450