Urban League's Gwen Grant blazes new civic trail - KCTV5 News

Urban League's Gwen Grant blazes new civic trail

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President Barack Obama, Gwen Grant President Barack Obama, Gwen Grant

Gwen Grant blazed new trails when she took over management of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.

Grant became president and chief executive officer in 2001 after the death of Bill Clark.

"I had to grow up pretty quickly," Grant recalled in an interview with KCTV5's Karen Fuller. "I think the key to anyone's success in a job is, as you are preparing, your life experiences prepare you for that next step. But I think our ability to be successful is how quickly we grow in the job."

Founded in 1919, the Urban League has had a rich history in Kansas City.

The organization's focus is opening doors and helping minorities with career placement, education and leadership development while promoting race relations.

Up to five employees work at the Urban League offices on the Paseo. The recession has hit the Urban League hard like it has all nonprofit organizations, but Grant and her employees have just worked even harder.

"Being a nonprofit, having financial challenges, is not an excuse to do substandard work. So I'm proud to be associated with an organization that is so professional in the services we provide," Grant said.

Clark was beloved and revered. Grant admits she felt the weight of the shoes she was filling and at times the welcome mat slipped way.

"There were positions out in the community that my predecessor enjoyed that were not necessarily passed on to me," she said. "However, I have in my own right established my presence and my own relationships and feel quite comfortable with that."

Grant has become a powerhouse player in civic and political circles on a number of issues including the Kansas City School District and City Hall. She is a panelist on KCPT's public affairs program, Ruckus.

A Kansas City native, Grant was inspired by the civil rights movement in the 1960s to enter into a career in public service. When she was a teen, she boarded a bus filled with total strangers to go to Washington for a rally.

"That experience is what shaped me for the work that I do and my entire career being focused on the nonprofit sector and wanting my work to make a difference in the lives of people," Grant said.

Grant was honored with the coveted Whitney M. Young Junior Service award in 2003.

"That meant a lot to me because we are very passionate about closing, bridging the racial divide, closing those gaps and making a difference with regard to race relations, so that means a lot to me," Grant said.

That award along with a picture taken with then U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, before his death are among the possessions she treasures most in her office.

"I feel blessed that I'm able to do this job because I have the pleasure and honor of serving my community, and getting paid for it! What could be better than that?"

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