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Arva Rice – Making a difference and increasing the impact of the NYUL

Author: Mell P @


Arva Rice, 52, is the current President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Urban League (NYUL). She was appointed in 2009, the second woman ever to hold this position.

Her portfolio is extensive and she is well admired for her ability to successfully reach the community. She has served in several roles from 1990, the year of her graduation from Columbia University to now.

In 1993, Rice worked as Technical Assistance Director at the Fund for the City of New York. She then went on to serve as Program Director of Economic Literary for Girls, Incorporated, where she was instrumental in partnering with American Express to bring about the publication of Money Matters: An Economic Literacy Action Kit for Girls. In 1999, Rice became executive director of Public Allies New York.

And in 2003 as the Executive Director of Project Enterprise, she helped the agency double its revolving loan fund.

Besides this position, she is a Commissioner for NYC Equal Employment Practices Commission; a Member of Greater New York Chapter of the Links Incorporated; The Women’s Forum; Annie E. Casey Foundation; and Casey Fellowship for Children & Families.

On March 28, 2019, she was interviewed by The HistoryMakers.

In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, Carib News caught up with Ms. Rice as she sheltered in place at home. Here is a recap of our conversation below:

Can you tell us what the Urban League is currently doing with respect to programs, services, and advocacy, not just in STEM but overall?

“For over 100 years, the New York Urban League (NYUL) has led the way in the education, employment, and empowerment of underserved African- Americans across the five boroughs of  New York City. During this time, we are proud to have inspired, influenced, and ignited over one million Black people to achieve their highest aspirations. NYUL remains a vital resource for our city’s African-Americans and other underserved groups. We invest to transform the lives of over 5,000 families each year by providing quality higher education options, economic opportunity, and community engagement.”

How do you and the Urban League hold corporations accountable for corporate responsibility and continue to be the voice of challenge for people of color in NY?

“The National Urban League started producing the State of Black America over 50 years ago because people had no idea about the inequities that existed in America. Today the National Urban League continues to produce this report to shine the light on inequities, make recommendations, and develop advocacy agendas that are built on the data presented. Our agenda right now is to hold technology companies accountable for hiring more people of color to work in their industries.

The coronavirus pandemic has delayed some of the outreach the Urban League is working on. I imagine the virus has roadblocked any progress you would have made thus far. Any immediate restructuring of plans to help get those project plans back on course?

“The virus has underscored the social security of our citizens. It is going to be more taxing for families. NYUL will be looking to create a stimulus fund for families in need. also, updating the website with resources for those in need, like locations of food pantries and other support services.

We have put off Centennial Gala carded for April to June 01, and we’ll be postponing again to Sept. Hopefully, then we can actually have it.”

Stay tuned for The State of Black New York due in May.

Earlier this year, at a special breakfast at The Plaza hosted by the Urban National Urban League, the theme of that event was Diversity. Can you share a bit about the event?

“New York Urban League gave awards to three ppl who had exemplary diversity practices. There was also a panel on how to support diversity in the workplace & the advancement of people of color in leadership positions.”

You’re a huge supporter of STEM programs? How much work is there left to be done in this area and what is needed by graduates like myself to step into roles that serve our community?

“In the majority of tech companies, less than 5% of the workforce is AA. The average salary in the tech sector for a high school graduate is $80k. Yet Blacks are early adopters and avid users of technology (“Black Twitter”). The most important thing a current programmer, engineer, or scientist can do for the next generation is to meet them. for the next generation is to meet them. Every black person in tech I have ever interviewed or encountered tells the story of meeting someone who looked like them and suddenly the industry became possible. Every year NYUL organizations Empowerment Days which are like ‘take our daughters back to work’ days. Instead of taking one or two daughters or sons, we take hundreds. They visit Facebook and Google, Microsoft, and Etsy – all with the goal of opening up their possibilities.”

On a more personal level, Ms. Rice shared her thoughts on her outlook for the near future and the legacy she intends to leave behind.

During your TEDxHarlem talk, you said one of the lessons you’ve learned is that you may not be called, but you are chosen. How does someone who is working in the shadows step into the light and make themselves seen?

“This is such a great question. We need to do things that make our stomachs hurt. Volunteer to be on a special project at work, attend an event alone, take a course on-line, attend a conference, and volunteer your skillset to a nonprofit. All these opportunities challenge your skills and build your network. We have to constantly upgrade our skills our experiences to both be noticed and to have the confidence to speak up about our abilities.”

You are well admired and completed for the community outreach you are excellent at. What keeps you grounded?

“My connection to family. No matter how many titles you have, they bring you back to your true self by reminding you of something you did as a child. Also, it’s a privilege to be in this role. I have a deep responsibility to uplift the lives of people of color here in New York. These two things keep me grounded.”

Your outreach program is exemplary. Can you share some of the strategic community and corporate partnerships you currently have to help advance the Diversity Pipeline and Diversity & Inclusion Lab?

“Our strongest partner is Interpublic Group (IPG), a global provider of marketing solutions. They are a black affinity group. R/GA contributed to the development of the website. Another is NBC4, whom we partnered with for NYUL Centennial Stories #NYUL100. David Ushery was our master of ceremonies.”

You’re considered a HistoryMaker having held numerous positions on Boards, as director of programs, and a recipient of many awards. Did you have this vision for your life as a young girl?

“I was raised by two sharecroppers. Their only goal was to send their kids to college. But they were always very clear, that for whatever we received we had a responsibility to give back. So giving back to my community was always an expectation, not a choice.”

In terms of these personal achievements, what are your goals for yourself in the next decade?

“In the next ten years, I want to continue to transform and innovate the New York Urban League to ensure that NYULis here, vital and thriving for the next generations’ Urban Leaguers. I want to help close the gap in technology so that blacks are as well represented in employment and entrepreneurship as we are in usership.”

After all this service, what ultimate legacy do you want to leave behind?

“I want the New York Urban League to have played a significant role in closing the digital divide. Personally, I want everyone’s networks and possibilities to be expanded as a result of their interaction with me.”

What advice would you give to your younger self in hindsight?

“It really is true that Time really does heal all wounds.”


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