Community Voices

Miami-Dade community honors Urban League and T. Willard Fair

T. Willard Fair, executive director and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, came to South Florida to help change the status quo.
T. Willard Fair, executive director and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, came to South Florida to help change the status quo. Miami Herald file

On Nov. 24, under blue skies and warm sunshine, the Miami-Dade County community gathered at Charles Hadley Park in Liberty City to celebrate two major milestones: the 75th anniversary of The Urban League of Greater Miami and the 55th anniversary of T. Willard Fair as the League’s Miami leader.

The Urban League opened its first office in Miami in 1943, after a group of concerned citizens headed by white businessman Stanley Myers and Dr. Ira P. Davis, a black dentist, asked the National Urban League to do a study on the “socio-economic status” of Miami’s black community. The national League sent Dr. Warren Banner, its research analyst and troubleshooter, to do the study. The study revealed what was already known: The situation for Miami’s blacks was dismal, lacking the bare basics to help make their lives more bearable.

There was poor housing and poor schools (The old Liberty City Elementary School didn’t even have cool running water for the children. Lead pipes that pumped water into the school, were above ground, and on hot days the water flowing through the pipes was often scalding hot.) There were no playgrounds or parks for black children, and there was high unemployment and low self-esteem among many people. While there was a handful of black medical doctors, they were not enough to serve the entire black community. If any city needed the League, it certainly was Miami.

The late Rev. Edward T. Graham became first president of the League’s Miami chapter. Its office was in the basement of the Historic Mt. Zion Baptist church in Overtown, where Graham served as pastor.

The League worked, slowly changing the status of life for Miami’s blacks. After the Supreme Court in 1954 ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional (Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas), League Executive Director James Whitehead met with the local school board and said, “segregation is still the rule as far as Dade County schools are concerned.”

The League persevered throughout the 1950s and fought for better housing, regular garbage pickups and better paying jobs for blacks.

The 1960’s brought with it new problems — the devastation of many black neighborhoods due to the influx of drugs. It was during this era that new leadership emerged at the helm of Miami’s Urban League in the person of T. Willard Fair.

At the Nov. 24 ceremony, I sat next to Nancy Dawkins, Thelma Gibson and Yvonne Caleb, whose late husbands had worked closely with Fair in the growth of the League. Memories of Fair and the League flooded my mind. I remembered the first time I saw him. It was around 1966, the year I started my journey with the Miami Herald, when he literally strutted onto the scene, wearing a dashiki (an African-inspired shirt) and ruffling some feathers, while soothing some others with his over-the-top personality.

It was clear from the beginning that Fair, only 24 at the time, was a man bold enough to stand up to the white establishment. If he was afraid at times, he never let it show. So strong was his presence here in Miami, that even some blacks didn’t know how to take him. Fair never seemed to let that bother him. He was gifted in knowing how to surround himself with the people who would have his back — many of them black women from the community he served.

He came to Miami from his home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he was the youngest of eight siblings. He was different. And he had come to help change the status quo. It wouldn’t happen without a fight. His outspokenness endeared him to some and angered others.

Fair had a strong sense of family. Once settled in Miami, he never cut ties with his family back in Winston-Salem, and members of his close-knit family supported him in all his endeavors. Miami got to meet members of his family at the annual Urban League fundraising/anniversary dinners, when one or two of his siblings would always be there. It said a lot about Fair, and what he had in mind for the black community, and the community in general.

At the celebration, children ran and played and had their faces painted, only later to mess up the art by getting it smeared with cotton candy. Grandmothers sat comfortably under a great white canopy, applauded the speeches and and later were served lunch, while watching elected officials, past and present, greet each other warmly. There were Jews and Muslims and Christians smiling and hugging each other. Mothers and dads nodded their approval at what seemed like the entire community had come out as one, great big family. And I thought, Fair’s dream had become a realization.

The Village (as Fair often refers to the black family/community) was out in full force. Families had come to the celebration as one. Seniors were bused in. Many of those attending the celebration now live in decent and affordable housing, built or renovated by the Urban League of Greater Miami.

Fair couldn’t stop smiling. He told the gathering that when he started at the League, it had a budget of $19,000. “Today,” he said, “we have a budget of $37 million.” Then, the 79-year-old Fair said he had no plans to retire. “I will never quit this job,” he said.

‘A Holiday Concert’

Florida Memorial University and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts will present “A Holiday Concert” at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, in the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts, 15800 NW 42nd Ave. in Miami Gardens.

The concert will feature The Ambassador Chorale with Argarita N. Johnson-Palavieini directing and the 2018 Community Mass Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Nelson Hall, performing George Frederick Handel’s Oratorio “Messiah.”

The concert is sponsored by the W.I.S.H. Foundation, in collaboration with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. It is free and open to the public.

Aslo, the Community Mass Choir and Orchestra will perform the “Messiah” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Church of the Incarnation, 1835 NW 54th St. in Liberty City.

For more information, call 786-337-5028.

Holiday sing-along

The Community Arts Program (CAP) will present “Overtown Holiday Spectacular” featuring talented children and youth from throughout Miami-Dade County in concert 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church, 1750 NW Third Ave. in Overtown.

The event is free and is presented by the award-winning Community Arts Program after-school Conservatory for the Arts. The event is a “perfect family event” that will include a grand, carol sing-along.

Free voice recital

This is the season for great music. In keeping with that, the Performer’s Music Institute, directed by Oscar Diaz Jr., invites the community to a free voice recital 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at Miami Shores Community Church (United Church of Christ), 9823 NE Fourth Ave.

The recital will feature the students of voice from the Performer’s Music Institute. For more information call the institute at 305-757-7725.

Hanukkah Festival

The 39th annual South Florida Hanukkah Festival will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at Gulfstream Park and Casino, 901 S. Federal Hwy. in Hallandale Beach. The event will feature Avraham Fried, known as The King of Jewish Music, live in concert, and the Jewish musical team 8th Day.

The festival is presented by Chabad of South Florida and Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus, Chabad’s executive vice president says admission is free.

For more information and to help sponsor the festival, log on to

‘This Christmas’

The Miami Oratorio Society will present “This Christmas,“ a concert celebration of “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi, and the much loved “Messiah” by Georg Friedrich Handel 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at Holy Family Episcopal Church, 18501 NW Seventh Ave. in Miami Gardens.

The choir will be joined by guest soloists Emelia Acon, Joanne Martinez, Anthuan Rubbio, and Daniel Snodgrass, and will be accompanied by pianist Nathan Johnson and The Encore Chamber Players. Andrew Anderson is director of MOS.

Tickets are $20 at the door for adults and $10 each for children ages 10 to 17. Call Judy Feldman at 305-610-0500 for more information.

New World Symphony

The New World Symphony, conducted by Brad Lubman, will present the U.S. premiere of a co-commissioned work, “Sounds of the Times: Harmony and Understanding” by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the New world Center, 500 17th St. in Miami Beach.

Tickets start at $30 each and can be purchased by calling 305-968-2552.