This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 17, 2012 - After being at the helm of the local Urban League for more than a quarter of a century, James H. Buford, 67, will retire in the middle of next year, he announced Thursday at a meeting of the agency's board.
Under Buford's leadership, the local league has enjoyed growth and recognition. In 2004, it became the first local unit to be named a five-star affiliate, based on community service and growth. When Buford became president in 1985, the group had an annual budget of about $2.5 million. The agency now runs more than $20 million worth of programs for residents of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County in Illinois.
Last year, the agency took on added responsibilities when Missouri chose it to deliver some of the services of the old Human Development Corp., which closed due to financial problems.
Buford developed a reputation for pushing for minority inclusion both in the workplace and in the boardroom during his 27 years as leader of the agency.
Debra Denham, chair of the league's board, called him an "extraordinary leader." She says he has been instrumental in making the league a "crucial part of the St. Louis region’s social safety net" for services ranging from job training, to home weatherization, to Head Start programs in partnership with the YWCA.
“Serving the Urban League for close to three decades has been a great honor,” Buford said in a statement. "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."
He added that much work "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.”
Denham says a search committee will be formed soon to find a replacement.