Reporting, writing and photos by Noor Hindi 

When native Clevelander Patrice Russell started working in Akron in March, she felt like she was diving head first into deep water with little help. She was unfamiliar with the Akron community and transitioning into her new job as the Talent Acquisition Programs Manager at Akron Children’s Hospital. 

When Russell joined Akron Urban League’s Young Professionals (AULYP) network, she started feeling more connected. AULYP is a group of Black leaders and changemakers in Akron determined to come together and address issues of race, equity and inclusion in the workplace and within Akron at large. 

“I just wanted to dive in,” Russell says. “I wanted the food, I wanted to know where to hang out. To me, the Urban League is my water wings. They’re helping [me] to stay afloat so I can kick back and enjoy.”

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Since joining in the summer, Russell has met dozens of Akronites who support her and understand the unique challenges Black Akronites face when advocating for themselves in the workplace and beyond. 

“Everyone posts events and businesses you should visit. I’ve gotten to meet new members, seasoned members, go to events with them, get to know them, network and build friendships in a short amount of time,” Russell says. 

Since becoming president of AULYP in 2019, Curtis Minter says the group has identified four goals: Providing a safe space, advocating for Black Akronites on a local and national scale, fostering economic mobility and promoting health and wellness. 

This past summer, the group worked toward getting Black Akronites registered to vote while having important conversations about generational trauma. 

“People who look like me typically function in predominantly white spaces Monday through Friday,” Minter says. “It’s so important that when you look to your left and your right, that people look like you. Nobody can quite describe that connectedness. It’s not widely delivered.”

Teresa LeGrair, President and CEO of Akron Urban League says there are distinct, systemic challenges young Black professionals face in Akron. 

“It’s unfortunate the things that have persisted for decades at different levels,” LeGrair says. “There’s still disparities around pay. There’s still disparities around getting housing. Statistics have shown a Black person is more inclined to have their home appraised for much lower than a Caucasian person would. There’s still disparities around healthcare. They deal with infant mortality and a lot of them are at that age where they’re building their families.” 

In 2019, Elevate Akron released a report that identified that much of Akron’s Black population has been excluded from economic opportunity. Minter says reports like these identify why it’s critical for AULYP to continue recruiting members, addressing systemic barriers and serving as a safe space for Black Akronites building their careers. 

From February 7-14, AULYP will be holding a virtual recruitment event encouraging current members to connect to each other, and new members to join. Membership is $50. More information can be found at akronurbanleague.org/aul-young-professionals

Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Equity and Inclusion Reporter. Email her at noor@thedevilstrip.com.

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