Getting to know Urban League CEO Pamela Banks
In December 2011, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle was going through turmoil. Having suffered 18 months without a CEO, leadership was needed to right the course for the organization.
Enter Pamela Banks (B.A., ’81). Banks heard about the opening for Urban League’s CEO position from her friends. Originally disinterested in applying for the job, her interest was slowly piqued after she read further into the job description. Banks had declined initial nudges to go for the job, deleting emails from her friends that saw her as a fit. “Then, that day, three more people emailed it to me. Those same people then called me and said that I should apply for the job. It was a little peer pressure. I took the job description home that weekend and I read through it. I prayed,” she said. “Then I figured, if I don’t do this and they hire someone different, someone from outside the city, then Urban League may not survive. That’s when I decided to put my name in.”
Having grown up in Portland, Oregon, Banks’ grandmother was president of the Urban League Guild. At that time, men ran the league while women raised money through the guild. This trend has changed as presidents of half of the national Urban League affiliates are women.
Banks’ interest in the job gained as the interview process progressed. By the time Urban League National flew her to Denver for the final interview, “I walked out of that interview thinking ‘they’d be crazy not to hire me.’ That’s how confident I was,” Banks said. She was then hired on as the CEO of Urban League of Seattle, ushering in a new and positive era for the organization.
Banks was seen as a fit for the position because of her affinity toward working with and helping people. “My career took off when I realized that I am a people person. The things that I have done in high school, college, and my professional career can all attest to that,” she said. “I always thought that if I go into either teaching or non-profiting, I would get the chance to work with people.”
The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle is a non-profit organization that has been in existence for 82 years in the heart of Seattle’s diverse Central District. The goal of the National Urban League has historically been focused on community work with education, employment opportunities, health and housing for disenfranchised African Americans. With racial problems persisting today, the Urban League of Seattle now serves to provide opportunities for all ethnic backgrounds.
In Urban League’s program to help people keep their homes, around half the people it sees are white due to the recent foreclosure crisis. “We try to provide an equal playing field when it comes to job, housing and educational opportunities to folks of all racial backgrounds,” Banks explained. “I tell people that I did not get into this business to give a handout, but to give a hand up.”
The addition of Banks as CEO has done nothing short of made an enormous difference on the League’s mission. Her commitment and energy for positive change has given the non-profit a new attitude toward achieving its goals. “People know that I am a credible person, that I am committed to my community and I take that into those boardroom meetings, or those grants that we apply for, or to the funders that could potentially fund our program needs,” she said.
Looking ahead to the next decade, Banks hopes for many positive goals to be met by the Urban League. With a new Vice President of Operations and Development, the non-profit can look forward to raising money to meet community needs. “I will say that in around three to five years, the goal is to have the Urban League be financially stable. I would like to grow the organization to around 20 to 25 employees, with a wealthy budget. I want to also have stronger programs giving employment opportunities to ex-offenders and early childhood education,” Banks said.
With making a positive difference, there are always some struggles along the way. “I have had some personal life challenges dealing with family emergencies,” she said. “For me, all of those personal hardships have helped me as a person and be the woman that I am today. It has given me personal strength and has strengthened my faith in God.”
Banks has many hobbies outside of making a difference at Urban League. She enjoys reading, travelling, cooking, shopping and spending time with friends and family. As an avid sports fan she follows teams of all levels from high school to the professional leagues. Her favorite teams include the Oklahoma City Thunder, Seattle Seahawks and the Garfield High School Bulldogs.
Want to know more about Pamela Banks and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle? Visit their website at urbanleague.org.
-BY CHRIS DUCLOS