How the Fort Wayne Urban League can help northeast Indiana compete in the global economy

For almost 100 years, the Fort Wayne Urban League has transformed the community through a myriad of services promoting interracial cooperation and community collaboration.

Now, it's celebrating its rich past while also looking to how it can remain relevant in an ever-changing community and world—all under the direction of a new leader.

Dr. Cosette Grant-Overton took the helm as President/CEO in May and has been eager to make connections and advance the cause. Her vision for the organization is a 21st-century approach to community development.

“We are (advancing) equal rights in the form of economic empowerment for our constituents,” Grant-Overton says.

A dynamic and forward-thinking leader, she has more than 25 years of combined executive and senior level management experience. Additionally, she has a background in the Urban League and is a former tenure-track professor in educational leadership and policy at a Research 1 institution.

Dr. Cosette Grant-Overton comes to the Fort Wayne Urban with a wealth of experience and ideas she believes is necessary to transform the region.As an affiliate of National Urban League, the Fort Wayne Urban League fulfills its mission by serving people in the community from “cradle to career,” Grant-Overton says.

Her desire as President/CEO is to overcome the myth that the nonprofit solely focuses on serving the poor and disadvantaged. She says the organization is much more inclusive than the general public might assume.

For example, the Fort Wayne Urban League also works with the professional base---young professionals, tenured professionals, and entrepreneurs, too. 

"Most people who come through our doors have multiple needs," Grant-Overton says. “We are comprehensive and have integrated programs that help people with everything from housing to job training to pre-apprenticeship to entrepreneurism. You never know who you’re going to meet and their (unique) set of needs.” 

One area, in particular, that could bode well for the future of the Electric Works campus and the Fort Wayne Urban League’s stakeholders is its pre-apprenticeship programs. These programs help enhance talent pipelines for construction trades occupations.

“We will serve as a supplier/resource for the kinds of talent and skills needed in (e.g. Electric Work’s) diversity and inclusion initiatives,” she says. 

The Urban League will build inclusion and job training at the future Electric Works campus.

As the national economy becomes increasingly globalized, reports by ForbesMercer, and the Harvard Business Review point to the same conclusion: "A diversified workforce drives greater innovation and ultimately business growth."
The Urban League can help Fort Wayne's workforce carve out a competitive edge for itself in the international market and train workers to fill gaps in the local job market left by technological advances, too, Grant-Overton explains.

This work also aligns with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership's Vision 2030, which calls for collaborating with business, government, and community leaders on business attraction, talent attraction, and talent development. By the year 2030, the Partnership hopes to increase the per capita personal income (PCPI) annually against the national average, increase the population of Northeast Indiana to 1 million residents, and increase postsecondary educational attainment to more than 60 percent.

Regarding talent attraction and development, Grant-Overton says the Fort Wayne Urban League has a new effort underway: the Urban League Young Professional Initiative. This is a part of a national Urban League movement to help up-and-coming professionals of all races connect and engage with the organization’s work. 

She is excited about the potential of this group in Fort Wayne and what it might mean for the community, at large. 

“It is important to tap into the young professional base, attract new talent, grow talent, advance young professionals, and promote diversity," Grant-Overton says. "We are looking to grow talent right here in the region by the growth of young professionals.”

Support the Fort Wayne Urban League

As a nonprofit, the Urban League depends on community support. Grant-Overton says individuals, families, and organizations are welcome to join the Urban League through membership fees. The same goes for private donations and grants. 

Contact the Fort Wayne Urban League at (260) 745-3100 for more information. 

Attend the 2018 Thurgood Marshall Leadership Awards Gala 

Nov. 10
Grand Wayne Center Ballroom
5 p.m.-midnight

This is the Fort Wayne Urban League’s annual awards event, but it is being retooled to attract the next generation of local leaders. This year, there are four awardees, and they've added an after-gala to the slate. 

The public is invited to attend the event and enjoy food and entertainment. The gala program starts at 6 p.m. The after party (open to anyone 21 and up) starts at 9 p.m.

Ticket prices are as follows:

VIP Reception & Gala: $200
Gala & After Gala Party: $125     
After Gala Party: $50

Call (260) 745-3100 Ext. 412 to purchase tickets. 

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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