6/19/2020 – Henry M. Thomas III, president & CEO of Urban League of Springfield. (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican)
By Elizabeth Román | firstname.lastname@example.org
SPRINGFIELD — A $500,000 donation made by the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. to the Urban League of Springfield will be used to support the Black community through scholarships and upgrades to Camp Atwater.
Henry M. Thomas III, president of the Urban League of Springfield, said the funding is an investment in the community.
“The donation came unsolicited, it was not a request,” he said. “They contacted us and said they wanted to invest in organizations that are uplifting the community and improving equity and reducing racial tensions.”
Thomas said he hopes the donation will serve as an example of how corporations and nonprofit organizations can collaborate.
“(MassMutual has) always had a great sense of corporate social responsibility and we admire that,” he said. “If more companies weigh in and ask the simple questions — ‘What can I do to help improve the circumstance of chronic inequities that negatively impact livelihood?’ — MassMutual is demonstrating what can be done. In return we get a stronger and more vibrant community because you have corporations and nonprofits working together to make it happen.”
Roger Crandall, chairman, president and CEO of MassMutual, said the company selected the Urban League of Springfield for its investments in education and economic development in the Black community.
“At MassMutual, we are deeply committed to supporting efforts that establish greater equality, fight injustice, and dismantle systemic racism — and an important part of that is supporting the organizations that have been doing this critical work for a long time,” he said in a statement. “We hope our contribution makes a meaningful impact toward these ongoing efforts, and we encourage others in the business community to follow suit and support ways to bring sustainable, lasting change that will build a better world for all.”
Urban League of Springfield opens its new Digital Learning Lab
Springfield City Councilor Tracye Whitfield said she hopes to see some of the funding focused on higher education and economic development.
“I hope it goes towards helping young Black youth get into college, whether it’s a four-year institution or one of the great community colleges in the region,” she said. “I hope it can go to economic empowerment and development to promote Black-owned businesses. We have a lot of sole proprietors, but we need corporations to employ folks and help the community reestablish itself.”
Thomas said some money will be put toward scholarships for Black youth.
“We already provide about $40,000 a year in scholarships to students going onto college, but now we will be able to put more towards that goal,” he said.
Whitfield would also like to see improvements to Camp Atwater, an overnight camp for Black youth run by the Urban League in North Brookfield.
Thomas said the camp, which is in its 99th year, will have to hold virtual sessions this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he hopes the camp will be up and running with improvements next summer for its centennial celebration.
“This investment will help us restore this historic institution. It is the oldest African-American owned and operated summer youth residential camp in the country. It’s on the national register of historic places with over 80 acres,” he said. “This donation will help us leverage partnerships with other benevolent members of the community to help us with some of the capital improvements that we desire to do.”
Thomas said he hopes investments like the one made by MassMutual will help promote adequate access to health and wellness services, wealth building and a level playing field for all.
Springfield health and human services commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the Black community in Springfield is disproportionately represented in every health status index including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
“One is obesity. Particularly around our children, we are seeing across the city and the commonwealth that children are gaining weight and becoming obese at disproportionate numbers,” she said.
Caulton-Harris said the solutions include prevention and intervention.
“Prevention is to make sure individuals are exercising and taking advantage of the ability to get outside,” she said. “The other thing is making sure Black individuals are going to their primary care physicians to get the appropriate diagnosis.”
Thomas said Camp Atwater provides many opportunities for children to participate in outdoor activities, from fishing and canoeing to hiking and other daily exercise activities. The camp also focuses on promoting personal development.
“There are great opportunities to work on the physical and the personal. We want the kids to leave with a sense of who they are and to know their story,” he said.
Thomas said MassMutual’s donation is a representation of its investment in the empowerment of the Black community.
“I believe in E to the third power, which stands for equity plus excellence equals empowerment,” he said. “Equity is not a guarantee that you will get the prize, it’s a guarantee that you will get an equitable chance to get the prize, whether it’s competing for a job or for another opportunity. Without equity and excellence, you don’t get empowerment.”
He said a lack of empowerment is what leads a lack of engagement and participation in community events.
“When you don’t have empowerment you don’t take calculated risks to improve your condition,” he said. “You don’t show up for meetings at school for your children or at the school committee meetings for the budget. You don’t participate in the electoral process, which is a reason why Springfield has such a low voter turnout among registered voters, because they don’t feel they have the power to make change. And that is the work we do every day at the Urban League, enable people to become empowered so that they can make a change in their lives and their communities.”