Former NULYP Leader Now Leads West Coast Affiliate
Michelle Merriweather is the President and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. This former National Urban League Young Professionals (NULYP) chapter and national leader has combined her YP honed leadership skills with her Corporate America business savvy to thrive within the Movement.
Upon graduating from Xavier University in Louisiana and returning to her hometown of Los Angeles, California, Merriweather searched for a group of like-minded young professionals. She wanted to reinvigorate the feeling of professional and social unity she experienced on her HBCU campus. She searched the internet for such an organization and she initially joined the National Sales Network. Via this organization, she met a member of NULYP and, the rest is history…
Merriweather’s history-making journey within the National Urban League (NUL) Movement began in 2005. She first became involved with the Los Angeles Urban League Young Professionals (LAULYP) as a member of the events and chapter operations committees. She also led the program committee during a time where membership grew from 6 to nearly 200. In 2010, Merriweather became president of LAULYP. As chapter president, she led this new large membership to focus heavily on community service events. “It filled me. It gave me purpose. I loved it,” she said.
“I had no interest in working for NUL. I was doing just fine in Corporate America,” Merriweather said of her former business development role at Starbucks. She was able to merge her passion for service and her business skill set by helping to create a partnership between Starbucks and her YP chapter. This effort led to raising nearly $30,000 for the Los Angeles Urban League affiliate.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed. Merriweather was tapped by then NULYP President Brandi Richard to serve as her chief of staff. She helped to plan YP activities at the NUL Conference in New Orleans in 2012. “I learned real quick,” said Merriweather recalling her fast-track to gaining national NULYP experience. During Richard’s second term, Merriweather became NULYP communications chair. She also graduated in the inaugural cohort of the NUL Emerging Leaders program. By the end of the program, 18 months for this cohort, Merriweather’s interest in not only working for NUL, but her interest in serving as an affiliate CEO grew tremendously. Her Emerging Leaders cohorts and her fellow national NULYP executive leadership teammates encouraged and supported her in this quest.
Committed to remaining on the West Coast, Merriweather soon applied for the CEO position with the Urban League of Portland (Oregon). “I knew it was a long shot, [but] let me try,” said Merriweather. She had no formal management experience, but she knew her YP management, fundraising and leadership experience was relevant to her application. She earned a spot as a top three finalist and she was interviewed by a panel of sitting NUL CEOs. Merriweather was not selected from this search, but her presence made a lasting impact. Her interview panel included then President and CEO of the Seattle NUL affiliate, Pamela Banks. Banks, in need of a succession plan, soon reached out to Merriweather to serve as her Vice President of Operations. Upon her hire in August 2015, Merriweather made the 12th employee of the Seattle NUL affiliate, then operating with a $1.5million budget. “I took a huge pay cut, [but] I didn’t care. This is what I was called to do,” said Merriweather. “If I do it right, the money will come,” she said.
Merriweather was officially named President and CEO in February 2018. The affiliate now has 45 employees and operates with a budget just over $6million. “We are doing something right,” said Merriweather. She prides herself in thinking outside of the box in hiring non-traditional employees and in terms of the types of service her affiliate provides. This work includes serving homeless and reentering populations. “We’re showing up in our city the way our city needs us to. Every affiliate does, but ours looks a little different,” she said. The affiliate will celebrate 90 years in January 2020.
As NULYP enters its 20th year, Merriweather reflects on the brilliance of YPs within the Movement. She is grateful for the continued support of the NULYP and NUL family, a group she deems “a powerful network of people who are doing some dope stuff.” This group includes former and current NULYP and NUL leaders: Kevin Hooks, Brandi Richard, Travis Townsend, William Barnes, Barton Taylor and Jameeka Aaron. Merriweather encourages current and future YPs to focus on “what’s next.” She challenges YPs to also think outside of the box and “do something different, set trends, and challenge the status quo” within affiliates and in our nation.