TSS Blog

Inside Equity with Knoxville Area Urban League

What is your organization’s mission, and how does it support Tennessee’s students?

The Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL), a civil rights, economic development and social service organization, came into existence in 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement to promote equal employment opportunities for African-Americans in Knoxville, Tennessee. Today, the organization is a nonprofit, non-partisan, interracial community-based organization, serving a diverse client base in Knox, Blount, and Anderson counties.

KAUL’s vision is to “be the recognized leader and premier nonprofit in the greater Knoxville area promoting diversity, economic, and social equity for all citizens.” Their mission is to “enable African Americans, other minority groups, and the underserved to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights.” The core values of KAUL are: diversity, integrity, passion, customer service, self-sufficiency, empowerment, teamwork, and collaboration.

By offering detailed job placement and completion information, the Knoxville Area Urban League operates as a postsecondary education institution by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). They also have a minority scholarship program in honor of Walter S.E. Hardy, M.D., one of the first African-American physicians in Knoxville, to encourage minority students who are pursuing degrees in the health profession. 

As KAUL has worked in the Knoxville area for over 52 years, they have been influential in conversations around equity as many area nonprofits address systemic community-wide or even national issues. KAUL CEO, Phyllis Nichols, explains equality as providing everyone an opportunity while equity is ensuring that there is proportional representation (by race, class, gender, etc.) in those same opportunities. These conversations have been critical in addressing the inequalities many students and minority communities face in Knoxville.

What desired impact does your organization have for its community? How does that impact influence your organization’s goals?

Education and Youth: All children deserve a quality education that will prepare them for college, work, and life.

Education reform and academic achievement are about much more than what happens in the classroom. Our Education and Youth programs work to improve educational opportunities for at-risk students to support their academic achievement, encourage civic involvement through service learning, and contribute to their cultural and emotional development.

We work to ensure all students, regardless of ZIP code, income, race, or ethnicity, are well-taught and held to the same high standards that align with college and work expectations, and that all students have access to high-quality educational content, resources, and opportunities essential to ensure post-secondary success.

Workforce: Every adult in America should have equal access to resources that enhance employability and job mobility, including post-secondary education and training. Our programs are geared toward the unemployed and underemployed. We also work with employers to identify employment opportunities, as well as identify and pre-screen employees. Workforce Services:

  • Assessments
  • Computer training
  • Employment readiness
  • Workforce counseling and job placement
  • Customer service training
  • In-house job board

Housing: Every adult in America should have access to the financial security that comes from owning a home. The Knoxville Area Urban League is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved nonprofit counseling agency; in 1971, we became the first nonprofit in Tennessee to be designated as such. Today, our counseling program is recognized throughout the state for the goals and outcomes we achieve with our clients.

In 2009, the National Urban League designated the Knoxville Area Urban League as a Gold Star Homeownership Center. We were one of only eight affiliates out of 100 selected for this designation – the result of our 38 years of experience and performance as a HUD-certified housing counseling agency.

Entrepreneurship: Every individual in America who possesses entrepreneurial vision, ingenuity, drive, and desire should have access to resources needed to establish and grow a viable business. Programs:

  • Empowerment Opportunity Loan Program: The Knoxville Area Urban League is a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI); we provide loans from $5,000-$250,000 to qualified entrepreneurs to start and/or expand businesses in Knox County that will provide jobs, goods, and services that meet the needs of the community.
  • As a Community Development and Financial Institution (CDFI), our lending programs and technical assistance are strategic investments that will build strong economic ecosystems, which, in turn, will support entrepreneurship and business growth in economically disadvantaged areas.
  • The CO.STARTERS program walks creative small business owners through lean, effective business modeling methods in simple and intuitive ways. Rather than treating a start-up business like a large corporation and writing a lengthy business plan, CO.STARTERS participants are encouraged to build and test small models. Participants receive real-time customer feedback, update the models to meet customer needs and avoid creating businesses based on incorrect assumptions.

As an organization, we are dedicated to empowering communities and changing lives, which is reflected in the various ways we are influencing each community we are placed into.

How can those interested get involved in the work you’re doing?

Those who are interested can donate to the Knoxville Urban League to help reach their goal of providing shoes for a child in need, provide job counseling services to job seekers, help a potential small business owner develop a business plan, or assist with foreclosure counseling. Get more information on donating here.

You can become a member with the Knoxville Area Urban League here.

If your organization or business is aligned with sustained economic growth and empowerment in the community and would like to get involved, you can learn about corporate involvement here.

Lastly, if you would like to be a volunteer with KAUL, which includes: 

  • Annual Shoes for School event
  • Instructor or presenter for budget/credit, homeownership, or job readiness classes
  • Office support – answer phones, filing, and other administrative tasks
  • Mentoring a student

Fill out an application here.

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