After 23 years at the helm of the Greater Washington Urban League, President and CEO Maudine R. Cooper is retiring.
Her professional career spanned four decades, 23 of them at the GWUL. An engaging leader with a reputation for being steadfast in her efforts to help the voiceless, Cooper “has been the ultimate advocate of social justice for underserved residents in the Greater Washington area,” the GWUL said in a statement.
Since she took charge, the GWUL has doubled its programs, started an organization for young professionals and relocated to a larger headquarters building in historic Columbia Heights, officials said.
“We are saddened about Maudine’s departure, but the legacy she’s leaving is one of tireless dedication to the community,” said Jerry A. Moore, III, chairman of the GWUL Board of Directors. “We are truly grateful for all of her years of service and we wish her well in the next phase of her life.”
Cooper said she is retiring to spend more time with her family, including her beloved great-grandchildren. She is scheduled to be honored at an event Nov. 8 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Her successor has yet to be named.
Washington-area leaders praised Cooper for her work. Each year, the GWUL services more than 50,000 residents in the region through programs geared to education, employment and job training, health and nutrition, food and utility assistance, affording housing and community development.
"It is with great respect and gratitude that I wish Maudine the restful retirement she deserves," said Mayor Vincent Gray. "Throughout her years as a servant leader, Maudine has enriched the lives of District residents, used her diplomatic and management skills to build the GWUL, and has contributed to creating a more just and caring world. I thank her for tireless dedication and commitment to the
District and the entire metropolitan area."
Dr. Frank Smith, founder and director of the African American Civil War Museum and a civil rights activist who worked in Cooper’s home state of Mississippi, said she will be deeply missed for her work with local residents.
“She’s been a stalwart,” he said. “She’s been out there in the city trying to help people with job placement and housing. I think this Urban League does that better than anyone else in the country and she’s been at the forefront of that.”
Washington D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jackie Manning, who works helping young people secure job training and work, also credited Cooper for her dedication to unemployed and underemployed local residents.
“I think she did a wonderful job making sure that people were employed and more than that, financially empowered,” said Manning, who represents ANC 5C04.
“Hopefully, her successor will do the same and be as engaged with the community as she was.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III said that under her leadership, the GWUL “is held in high regard regionally and nationally.”
“Maudine’s stellar reputation as a community and civil rights leader has contributed to that stature,” he said. “Her work has changed lives, empowered communities and positively impacted the quality of life for so many people in the Washington area. Her visionary and innovative leadership has been matched by few and has made her an icon in the region and around the country.”
According to HistoryMakers.com, Cooper, 73, was born in the Jim Crow South in Benoit, Miss., The tiny town offered few opportunities for Blacks and her family relocated to St. Paul, Minn. Cooper found her way to Washington, D.C. and Howard University, after graduating from high school, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1964 and a law degree in 1971. She then served in a variety of leadership roles in the National Urban League. In 1983, she moved to government, serving under then-Mayor Marion Barry as the first director of the Office of Human Rights, then as head of the Minority Business Opportunity Commission, and finally, as Barry’s chief of staff.
She joined the GWUL in 1990, where she had made history as the engine that powered the agency’s many social justice programs and services. In an interview in May with the National Urban League Wire, Cooper said she defines her legacy in three words: “commitment, caring and passion” for “the Urban League Movement.”
“Commitment to the movement more than anything else,” she told the publication.
“Caring—you have to care about the people who come through your doors every day. I don't appreciate the cavalier attitudes that some people have towards the people they serve. I don't like it. Passion. After Hurricane Katrina, there were a lot of people who needed help and [were] told to contact the Urban League…There was no special funding to assist them, but I challenged staff and myself to go the extra mile…Every now and then, there's something that's not in the budget but needs to get done—that’s the type of passion I'm talking about.”
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