By Ryan MacDonald
A New Year often brings to the office big goals, lofty forecasts, and optimistic slogans, even while employees head back to work with a full-blown holiday hangover.
But the Urban League of Seattle is ready to back up all of that “new year, new you” chatter and make a big impact.
Boosted by a $150,000 donation from Comcast Universal, the Urban League is aiming to build on their broad sweeping goal of creating more diversity in the tech sector with a series of local initiatives, after school programs, and the opening of a brand new building in downtown.
“2018 is going to be pretty remarkable year for us,” said Michelle Merriweather, VP of Programs and Operations, who oversees the League’s numerous educational and employment programs and develops key business partnerships to expand the non-profit’s reach.
“To know that we have such a great partnership with Comcast, to make an impact on our community, and the people that we serve, is remarkable.”
To start, the League will be hiring 4 additional full-time employees, growing their team to a total of 33. In just over two years, the organization has doubled its size.
These newbies will be put right to work as the team prepares for the grand opening of the Urban Tech Center, a new state of the art facility located in the heart of downtown that will focus on training people in jobs of the future.
Housed in the Met Life building, the Center will open its doors by the end of the first quarter and provide resources in tech trainings, apprenticeships in trades like fiber coding, and, eventually, provide open tech hours with leading entrepreneurs.
“The goal of the Tech Center is to train people of color, primarily black and brown people, but of course all people are welcome,” explained Merriweather.
The center is one of the League’s banner goals for 2018, and it couldn’t be possible without the enthusiastic support of Comcast, particularly Diem Ly, Director of Community Investment & External Affairs, and Leron Lee, Manager of Engineering and Construction.
“We told them what we were doing with the Tech Center, and it was just like, ‘Yea! How can we help? How can we be apart of that?’” said Merriweather about her relationship with Ly and Lee.
In addition to the Tech Center, the League intends to continue to make inroads with local initiatives like Tech Hire, a White House program designed by the Obama administration to hire more people of color into the tech industry.
.@TechHire hosted its first roundtable in September, where communities across the country came together to discuss how we can help Americans get jobs. https://t.co/VoEgFmOqlF #OpptyYearInReview: https://t.co/steJhdZ553 pic.twitter.com/VYAqm99rIj
— TechHire (@TechHire) December 28, 2017
“Black and brown people are significantly under represented in these magnificent huge companies,” said Merriweather. “But these companies realize that and are partnering with us to prepare our community for these jobs.”
In the last 18 months, many top Fortune 500 companies, like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have partnered with the League to boost diversity among their ranks. Now with the backing and support of a place like Comcast, Merriweather believes her team can take their work even farther.
“We have the right partners to make sure the people that we’re serving are getting the right to work,” she said.
The employment programs offered by the League won’t end just there. They also intend to train people to be competitive in construction jobs, a hot market in a growing city like Seattle, and will continue their signature program Career Bridge, which helps the formally incarcerated find a way back to work.
— Emily Zulauf (@emilyzulauf) December 1, 2017
“We’ll keep on doing that, but we’ve extended it to women and young adults ages 17-24,” said Merriweather. “They paid their debt to society, and they need us to invest in them.”
The League will also continue empowering the youth with educational programs, like Grand and Project M.I.S.T.E.R, which are respectively aimed at keeping young women and men connected to their communities and include a STEM elements to encourage learning about math, science or tech.
“Our youth are definitely our future, so we have to ensure they’re supported,” Merriweather said.
As she looks ahead to 2018, Merriweather feels fully empowered and supported by her Comcast family. And not just on a professional level.
“Not only are they giving us money, but Diem helps me think through things all the time,” said Merriweather, who credited Ly as being a helpful colleague who can help her talk through issues.
“To know that Comcast is there, represented on our board, encouraging our other board members to step up and make the same investment and impact to the Urban League and support our communities, it’s just amazing.”