James H. Buford, who has been President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis for 27 years, will retire in mid-2013, he announced today at a meeting of the League's Board of Directors. A search committee will soon be appointed by Board Chair Debra Denham to seek both local and national candidates.
Under Mr. Buford's leadership, the St. Louis affiliate of the National Urban League has dramatically grown in scope, services and community influence. He is widely recognized, in St. Louis and nationally, as a forceful and highly effective advocate for social and economic equality.
He has been at the forefront of countless efforts in the St. Louis community to promote inclusion and fairness for all minorities and disenfranchised citizens, especially African-Americans.
"Jim has been and continues to be an extraordinary leader, not just of the Urban League, but on a wide range of issues in the St. Louis region," said Ms. Denham. "Under his leadership, the Urban League has grown to be a crucial part of the St. Louis region's social safety net – providing services that range from job training to home weatherization, early childhood education to emergency food, violence prevention programs to housing counseling. And the broader community has greatly benefited from his wisdom as an eloquent voice for understanding among all racial and ethnic groups and from his leadership on a wide array of issues."
For more than decade, the St. Louis Urban League has been recognized as a premier organization within the National Urban League movement. In 2004, it was the first local affiliate to be designated a Five-Star Affiliate, a ranking it has maintained ever since through several affiliate reviews by the national organization.
"Thanks to Jim's leadership, the St. Louis affiliate is seen as the model for others to follow," said Stephen C. Jones, immediate past Chair of the Urban League Board of Directors. "Attracting the highly successful 2007 National Urban League Conference to St. Louis reinforced the standing that Jim and this affiliate have earned throughout the Urban League movement. The strong partnerships that Jim has built with the St. Louis corporate and philanthropic community were big assets in winning this convention of more than 10,000 attendees."
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis' budget has seen a tenfold increase since Mr. Buford became head of the St. Louis affiliate, as the number and scope of its programs have grown. From an annual budget of about $2.5 million when he arrived, the League now provides more than $20 million in programs to underserved populations of St. Louis City and County and St. Clair County. For more than a decade, the League has partnered with the YWCA to operate several Head Start centers in the City of St. Louis. It also has joined with St. Louis County Government and the Missouri Career Center to provide Workforce Investment Act youth services to at-risk high school students. This spring, the League weatherized more than 3,000 homes under a three-year, $19.4 million federal contract. And through a new partnership with Fannie Mae, the affiliate now provides housing counseling and foreclosure prevention in St. Louis City and County.
"Serving the Urban League for close to three decades has been a great honor," said Mr. Buford. "I am proud of the great progress we've made in the St. Louis region, and I have been privileged to be in the thick of the action for a long time. I am especially proud that the Urban League is so strong and widely respected, both as a major social service provider and as an advocate for the advancement of African-Americans and others. But much more remains to be done. I will be working hard for the next year to ensure that I turn a very strong organization over to my successor."
"Jim is the consummate relationship builder — nobody else in St. Louis has a broader, more diverse or more effective network of colleagues and friends," added Ms. Denham. "Time and again, Jim has proven his amazing capacity to connect with people and be both a strong advocate and a healing force on difficult issues. Thanks to the foundation he has built, the St. Louis Urban League will continue long after his retirement to be a major force for good in the St. Louis region."
Ms. Denham will soon appoint a search committee to seek highly qualified candidates to become the next President of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. The transition to a new CEO will likely occur in the spring of 2013.
In addition to his work at the Urban League, Mr. Buford has served in leadership roles for an extraordinary number of other community organizations. He is currently Chairman of the Board of St. Louis Connectcare, Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Sewer District and a board member of the St. Louis Zoo Commission. He also has been a member of the St. Louis Board of Education and the St. Louis County Board of Elections. Other organizations he has served include Grand Center, the Boy Scouts of America, Fair St. Louis, the UMSL Chancellor's Council, Jobs for America's Graduates, Heat Up St. Louis, the Downtown Partnership Foundation and the Missouri State University Foundation.
A graduate of Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, he has been awarded honorary degrees by Harris-Stowe State University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Webster University, Eden Theological Seminary and Fontbonne University. Before coming to the Urban League, Mr. Buford was State Director of Jobs for Missouri Graduates under Governor Christopher "Kit" Bond. He and his wife Susan live in the City of St. Louis. He has two adult sons.
The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis has long been a proud United Way member and is one of the largest recipients of its funds. Mr. Buford and the League staff vigorously support the United Way each year.