t-willard-fair_web.jpgFlorida International University

You cannot talk about the Urban League of Greater Miami without any mention of T. Willard Fair. After all, he has been its president for 47 years and has guided its progress over nearly half-a-century.

When the Urban League honored Fair during a dual ceremony on Oct. 30, it was also paying tribute to a man whose interests extend beyond South Florida and the affairs of the organization.

Fair is chairman of the state Board of Education.  In October he received the 2010 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of State Boards of Education, recognizing his contributions to public education.

And he has served as an adjunct professor at the Atlanta University School of Social Work, Bethune-Cookman University and Florida International University. He has taught at the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young, Center for Urban Leadership.

“It was a pleasure and honor to be recognized at the national level. I’m sure my mamma would be proud,” said Fair.
Angela Robinson Bellamy thinks Fair “is one of a kind.”

“I have the utmost respect for him. He is sincerely interested in community,” said Bellamy, 57, former assistant city manager and human relations director for the city of Miami.

Fair, 71, arrived in Miami in September 1963 to become the Miami Urban League’s assistant director for education and employment programs.

“I was nervous and excited. I was only 24. It was my first job and I never had been to Miami before,” said Fair. “I was determined I would pass with flying colors because I needed the job.”

A month later, he was appointed the League’s executive director, becoming the youngest person ever to serve in that post at an Urban League chapter.

Back then, the League had a three-person staff and a $19,000 budget.

Less than 10 years later, it became Liberty City’s largest non-profit organization and one of its most important employers.

The League remains influential today, sponsoring programs focused on health, crime prevention, education and women and children
issues, often leveraging grants from the likes of Citigroup, the College Board, the Jason Taylor Foundation and Rick Ross Charities.

Fair’s focus has long been on education, both in the black community and the community at large and he began to implement some of his vision when he was appointed to the state Board of Education in 2003, becoming chairman in 2006.

He has been a champion of charter schools and co-founded Liberty City Charter School, the first charter school organized in the state.

“The thousands of children, especially Hispanic and African-American children, who can now read at grade level, understand math and graduate from high school all owe him a debt of gratitude for his service,” said Kathleen Shanahan, a colleague on the state board, in a statement released by the agency.

Jessica De Leon may be reached at jdele002@fiu.edu.

Photo courtesy of Urban League of Greater Miami. Pensive: T. Willard Fair, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami