RCK Member Chris Lambert introduced our speaker, Knoxville Area Urban League President and CEO, Dr. Charles F. Lomax, Jr. Chris remarked that Dr. Lomax embodies ‘service above self,’ one of the Rotary International mottos, and Chris’ personal motto with respect to public service, ‘get involved and stay connected.’ Chris noted that in addition to his role at the Urban League, Dr. Lomax is a senior pastor at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Alcoa.
Exactly 120 days before our meeting, Dr. Lomax became the President and CEO of Knoxville Area Urban League, following its iconic leader Phyllis Nichols, who had been CEO for 23 years. He noted that he knew at the time that he had big, high and pretty shoes to fill.
Dr. Lomax is a Knoxville native, initially growing up on Dandridge Avenue, and then moving west with his family where he attended Karns High School. He said that he loves Knoxville and loves to serve Knoxville.
Dr. Lomax went to Atlanta for a while in 2007, 2008 and 2009, but had a hard time finding an appropriate position. He came back to Knoxville to lead the Amachi mentoring program at the Knoxville Leadership Foundation. While there, then Mayor Madeline Rogero called on him to serve on the Metropolitan Planning Commission. He remarked that he initially told Mayor Rogero that he knew nothing about real estate development or urban planning, and she indicated that was exactly why she wanted him on the Planning Commission. He served there for seven years.
He ran for City Council against RCK member Lynne Fugate. He said that they became good friends while running against each other and appearing together in various forums. Out of approximately 25,000 votes, Lynne won by 79 votes. But Dr. Lomax indicated that their race should be an example for people today, that people can be political opponents without abandoning civility.
When Mayor Kincannon replaced Mayor Rogero, she asked Dr. Lomax to become the City of Knoxville Director of Community Empowerment. That led to his position at Knoxville Area Urban League, which he described as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The goal of Knoxville Area Urban League is to empower communities and change lives. Its mission statement is to enable African Americans, other minority groups and the underserved to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.
The National Urban League was founded in 1910. At the time, its primary mission was to help African Americans leaving the south and moving to the northeast, particularly with respect to housing and jobs. The Knoxville Area Urban League is one of 90 Urban League affiliates across the country. It was formed in 1968. What each affiliate does is dependent on its community needs. The Knoxville Area Urban League focuses on education, housing, work force development, entrepreneurship, and justice.
Specifically, with respect to education, Dr. Lomax mentioned the Urban League’s National Achievers Society which was established to identify and motivate academically achieving minority high school students and increase the pool of students that are prepared, motivated and qualified for higher education.
With respect to housing, Knoxville Area Urban League is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved non-profit counseling agency. In addition, during the pandemic, KAUL provided rental and utility assistance for those in need.
With respect to jobs, KAUL has several work force development programs and services, including classes to help folks with soft job skills, such as interviewing.
The Knoxville Area Urban League entrepreneurship programs include counseling and training for people at the very beginning of their development of a business, and next level training after those businesses get off the ground. It includes a Community Development Financial Institution Empowerment Opportunity Loan Program. It has worked with the developers of the Knoxville-Knox County multipurpose stadium project and minority business owners seeking to participate in the development.
KAUL justice initiatives include an expungement clinic, which helps remove criminal charges from individuals’ backgrounds facilitating their seeking jobs and housing.
Knoxville Area Urban League is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) membership organization. It has classes of membership for individuals, families, young professionals, small businesses, and large businesses. Dr. Lomax’s presentation was well received. It certainly appears that the KAUL Board of Directors has done well in choosing Dr. Lomax as its President and CEO.