MIAMI — After more than 15 years of providing quality of life services to local families living amid impoverished conditions, failing schools and lack of economic development, the Urban Renewal Greater National Team continues to strive for excellence.
Better known as Urgent, Inc., the Overtown-based 501c3 organization provides social services, education, training, internships, case management and affordable housing, targeting neighborhoods in Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti and Goulds.
Formed in 1994 by a small group of concerned Miami residents who sought positive change for their community, Urgent has worked diligently through grassroot efforts to gain support from local families, businesses and officials. The organization began providing direct services in 1999, a community improvement element in 2003 and has steadily expanded its programming ever since.
Urgent currently offers a variety of community programs and training opportunities through the following initiatives: Rites of Passage Youth Empowerment Academy; Pregnancy Prevention Project; Intergenerational program, which provides grandparents raising grandchildren with support services; Youth Empowerment Summer Camp; Affordable Housing, a construction partnership with Miami-Dade County’s Infill Housing Initiative; and the Youth Empowerment Afterschool Program.
“Urgent, Inc. is so honored to serve the youth of Overtown by way of our initiatives,” Program Coordinator Emily Gunter, told the South Florida Times. “Through our Youth Empowerment After School program, we have been nominated to The Children's Trust and the U.S. Department of Education as a model for enhanced afterschool programs and an example of extended day school,” Gunter said. “We have been guided through our new strategic plan for the next 10 years by our vice president, Saliha Nelson. Our vision is for all people to have the social, economic and educational opportunities to thrive and this will be accomplished through the empowering of young minds to transform their communities.”
In order to accommodate their expanding programs, Urgent will move their services from the Culmer Center on historic Northwest Third Avenue to a corporate location at the new Carlisle Beacon Center for Empowerment and Education at 1000 N.W. First Ave. Gunter says the center will contain two Urgent classrooms to house the afterschool program and provide an additional learning environment for the children of Overtown and surrounding areas.
“Urgent, Inc.’s guiding principle is to promote shared leadership through empowerment, education and community engagement to create collective well-being,” Gunter said. “Our future goal is to develop a school campus for pre-K to 12th grade that mirrors our youth empowerment programs.”
Most recently the organization launched a new Building Literacy through the Art and Culture program, of which Gunter is the director. Through this project, Urgent will provide a historic art exhibit and commemorative celebration with award-winning artist and author Kadir Nelson.
Nelson, who served as the lead conceptual artist for the Steven Speilberg movies Amistad and Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron, has showcased his works in monumental locations such as the Negro League’s Baseball Museum, National Baseball Hall of Fame and the U.S. House of Representatives. His pieces have been collected by celebrities including Denzel Washington, Will and Jada Smith, Spike Lee and Sharon Stone.
‘WE ARE THE SHIP’
An exhibition of 47 oil paintings portraying the trials and tribulations of African-American and Cu-ban baseball players who were not accepted in the major league as a result of Jim Crow laws will run for ten weeks at Miami-Dade College’s Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd. In partnership with Nelson, Urgent held an invitational only book signing in November at the Freedom Tower Art Gallery, where the exhibit will run until Jan. 8, 2012. Nelson’s showcase is inspired by his book We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, which was awarded Best Illustrated Children’s Book by the New York Times in 2008.
One of the organization’s biggest supporters in this effort is the Florida Marlins’ Ayudan Community program, a front-office volunteer group of employees working together to build brighter futures for local families. Alfredo Mesa, executive director for the Marlins Foundation, said, ‘We have a couple of projects going on that we are sponsoring and working to complete.”
As a continuation in their strive for excellence, the partnering groups hosted a free community event on Dec. 17, “The Dorsey Park Festival at the Dust Bowl,” as a celebratory showcase of the artworks by local youth. Members of the Optimist Little League Team will also play a scrimmage game as a means of linking the arts, sports and history to the community.
Emanuel Washington, who leads the Overtown Community Optimist Club, said he is excited that Urgent and the Marlins have taken an interest. “Black baseball has been overlooked for years and is something we’ve always had in the inner city. But without the funds to support it, a lot of our kids don’t get the emphasis on playing baseball because football is the number one sport down here,” said Washington. “Our season goes from March to mid-June, but we would like to have a year-round program.”
Photo: Courtesy of TRACEY MOORE/URGENT INC.
SUPPORTER: Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.