Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Urban League CEO retires

In 13 years, Sheila Adams made the agency a prominent one

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Sheila Adams is retiring as president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.
(Enquirer file photo)
AVONDALE - Like a professional athlete who steps down at the top of his game, Urban League President and CEO Sheila Adams is retiring after a 13-year stint as one of the city's most prominent community leaders.

Adams, 60, will be remembered as the woman who turned a quiet social service agency into an organization that is a key player in almost every issue that affects blacks in Cincinnati. She increased the Urban League's budget from $300,000 in 1990 to more than $1.5 million today.

When Adams assumed the presidency, the Urban League had very minimal programming - a job skills center and a parenting program. Adams added more educational and job training programs and founded the African-American Leadership Development program, which has produced some the area's top African-American corporate executives.

She increased the organization's staffing level from 8 to 28 employees. She moved the Urban League's offices from the cramped confines of the Community Chest building into its own building on Reading Road in Avondale. Adams even raised enough money to retire the $5 million mortgage on the facility in five years.

Born: 1943 in College Hill
Residence: Springdale
Education: Graduate of Withrow High School. Bachelor of arts degree in sociology from the University of Cincinnati
Career: Spent seven years as the president and CEO of the Private Industry Council. She also worked in the employment and training division for the City of Cincinnati.
Family: Youngest of seven children. Married to Alexander Adams. She has three children and four grandchildren.
Adams' retirement is official effective today, though the Urban League's new president, Donna Jones Stanley, has been running the show since early November.

The Enquirer recently talked with Adams about her career at the Urban League and future plans.

Question: The Urban League of Greater Cincinnati is doing better economically and programmatically today than at any point in the organization's history. What made you decide to retire at this point in your career?

Answer: I had planned to retire before now. I had planned to retire about a year ago. But when we had the opportunity to get the (Urban League's) national conference, I told the board of trustees that I'd stay on another year. I stayed, but we didn't get the conference. But I still had to honor my commitment to the board. Otherwise, I'd have been gone a year ago. I have done what I planned to do with the league in terms of strong programming and getting the building paid for.

Q: What are your plans post-Urban League?

A: Jobs like the Urban League can take a toll on your personal life. I want to be more balanced and focus more on my family. I want to take some real down time to renew myself physically and spiritually and do some fun things. I'm also going to be writing a book, which I've already started on. I will also have a consulting relationship with the Urban League for a period of time.

Q: What did you feel was your biggest accomplishment as president of the Urban League?

A: Opening the building (on Reading Road in Avondale) and getting it paid for has to be the biggest. Turning the league around and bringing it into the 21st century, both in terms of technology and programming was also important. The African-American Leadership Development program, of which I was a key founder, has been instrumental.

Q: What do you feel was the most challenging part of the job?

A: Finding funding was always a challenge and it continues to be a challenge. The community issues such as police-community relations and race relations were also challenging. Trying to bring key partners to the table to dialogue and find solutions to those issues were major challenges that I had and that still exist.

Q: How would you like to be remembered by the people of Cincinnati for the work you did?

A: I'd like for people to say that she had a passion for her work and a passion for excellence and was a person who had integrity. That combination of passion and integrity and a willingness to work hard is a winning combination. I think people thought I was funny and had a great sense of humor. I also hope they would say that I was a loving and caring person.


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