Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
On her 17th
anniversary as President and CEO of the Southwestern Michigan Urban League
, Kyra Wallace announced that she will be leaving this role in April.
Wallace says she is making her departure public now because “I don’t have the type of job where I can give a two-week notice and leave. When you’re going through great succession planning, you want to make sure you give people time to process change, especially when you work in a community. It’s not necessarily fear of change but of sudden change. By being methodical about this move, I could eliminate any anxiety surrounding the change.”
Wallace says she is leaving to focus on entrepreneurial endeavors, according to a press release from the SMUL.
“I always said that when I leave, I want to leave feeling like I’m going out on top,” Wallace says. “The organization is in a strong financial position. We have a very competent staff that is working and helping to move the mission forward, and we’ve got a good volunteer base. I’m just in a season in my life where I’m ready to move on.”
“As the longest serving President/CEO for the Southwestern Michigan Urban League, Kyra ushered in the leadership of quiet strength. She listens intently before speaking. She pays meticulous attention to details. She is result oriented and has a great passion for those she serves,” the press release states.
Wallace says, “Working with individuals in the community who also have a passion for this great organization is very important. These individuals bring excitement, commitment, and great compassion to the work with do. We would not be able to accomplish half as much as we do without our volunteers.”
The Board of Directors for the Southwestern Michigan Urban League will put in place a search committee to identify Wallace’s successor according to the process established for all affiliates of the National Urban League.
Wallace joined the SMUL after teaching at Washington-Edison Elementary and later Southwestern Middle School.
“My boss, the principal at Southwestern, was offered the director’s position at the Urban League and he asked me to pray about it and come with him,” Wallace says.
Three years later she was named interim President/CEO of the SMUL.
She says her belief in the organization’s mission and the opportunities that her role as a leader gave her to work for positive change in the community is what kept her there.
Among her biggest accomplishments is preparing students to be college-ready through offering direct services, programming, and access to scholarships. She says this has been one of SMUL’s most impactful initiatives.
“I still get letters and cards from former students who thank us for helping them get to college and get jobs,” Wallace says.
“It’s really important to me,” Wallace says of the SMUL’s work. “That level of what we’ve been able to do extended from the focus we placed on education and that has woven through areas of our work including community engagement, economic development, and the needs of residents in the city’s African American community. Being with this organization gives us the ability to affect change both small and large and it’s something I absolutely appreciate.”
The skills and tools she and her staff of seven share with individuals at the grassroots level has given them a better understanding of what community engagement looks like and has encouraged them to get involved with projects to improve their neighborhoods, Wallace says.
This has enabled them to see themselves as leaders in their own lives, she says.
“It’s just the understanding that they have a voice,” Wallace says.
Those voices were visible during the last few election cycles which showed an increase in the number of African American residents who voted.
“The Southwestern Michigan Urban League may be small in number, yet it is mighty in impact. Kyra has nurtured volunteerism to help fulfill the mission of the organization,” the press release states.
Under her leadership, the press release says the Southwestern Michigan Urban League team has made significant inroads in the following areas:
Education – operated direct services programs leading to hundreds of students receiving four-year scholarships to Western Michigan University equating to millions of dollars being awarded.
Administered schooling for BCPS students to obtain credits toward graduation with more than
50 students earning over 400 credits. Facilitated after-school and summer programs leading to
thousands of students being taught a host of skills. Awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors from three endowment funds; Urban League General Fund, Clifton J. Woods Fund, and Anthony “Tony” McGee Fund.
Community Engagement – worked with local African American leaders both formal and informal to create the Black Agenda consisting of aspirations for the African American community. Engaged with the city to foster conversation and the facilitation of an equity audit. Worked intentionally with other leaders of BIPOC organizations to form natural connections and
collaboration points. Hosted many protests and rallies throughout the years bringing awareness
to the many injustices prevalent in our community and abroad.
Health – overseeing the development of the H.O.O.D Health Cooperative which has provided
opportunities for individuals to form a healthier lifestyle through eating fresh fruits and
vegetables. Received grant funding to create an outdoor health park in a local neighborhood
giving access for residents to become more active. Grand opening to take place this Spring!
Housing – awarded grant funds to offer residents, in lower-income neighborhoods, monetary
assistance to improve the exterior of their homes. During the pandemic, assisted homeowners
with mortgage payments to ensure they would not lose their homes. Also conducted outreach
to hard-to-reach population educating them about funding to help with rental assistance of
which more than $7 million was distributed.
Fiscal Agent – served as Fiscal Sponsor for many grassroots projects, entities, individuals, etc.
who does not have 501(c)3 status. This allows them to receive grant funds to implement their
programs or projects. Including Pink Ribbon Sisterhood, Men of Potential, and BC Diaper
Network just to name a few.
Venue – allowed residents to rent out affordable space in the Southwestern Michigan Urban
League’s facility hosts a myriad of events; baby showers, family dinners, graduation open
houses, birthday gatherings and so much more.
G.O.T.V. – prioritized get-out-the-vote efforts every election cycle. Increased voter awareness
through such activities as door knocking, phone banking, pop-up shops, and candidate forums.
Census – played a pivotal role during 2010 and 2020 for Census data collecting. Served as a
Census Hub to ensure the number of minority and high-priority groups completed the census.
Organized and facilitated an advisory group of 12 organizations to help reach the hard to count
Wallace says she will stay in Battle Creek and will remain involved in the community and the work of the SMUL in a volunteer capacity.
“The thing I’ll miss most is the staff and the people we serve and those individuals I developed relationships with through the community,” she says. “But, I’m still going to be involved.”