Head of local Urban League to step down

Darnell Williams, executive director of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.
Darnell Williams, executive director of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.Bill Brett for the The Boston Globe

After nearly two decades, Darnell Williams, executive director of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, is stepping down at the end of September, officials at the organization have announced.

Williams’s impending departure comes as the organization examines new ways to expand amid rapid changes in the nonprofit sector, officials said.

Joseph D. Feaster Jr., the organization’s board chairman, called the decision a “mutuality of determination,’’ saying Williams wants to pursue other opportunities.

“Darnell has been a great leader and advanced the organization’s mission during his tenure,’’ Feaster said in a statement. “He has decided to pursue other interests and the entire ULEM board and staff wish him much future success as he explores new endeavors.”


Feaster, in a phone interview, would not elaborate on Williams’s new endeavors or what prompted the departure, other than to say “he wants to move on.” He said an interim leader will be named soon.

“We feel it’s good for the organization and good for the individual,’’ Feaster said. “Both will prosper.”

He said the Urban League’s funding for programs and activities has decreased over the past decade as a plethora of nonprofits petition the same funding sources and that the organization has to begin reinventing itself to improve service.

“The Urban League needs to be repositioned,’’ Feaster said, adding that the board and incoming interim leader will be looking at the “organization from top to bottom’’ in terms of fund-raising, program expansion, and board development.

Williams did not respond to a request for comment, but the statement from Feaster quoted Williams as saying he had enjoyed his tenure as president and chief executive officer of the local Urban League.

“I . . . have had the distinct pleasure of working with dedicated staff, boards of directors, the [Young Professionals Network] and Guild affiliates, and the National Urban League colleagues throughout my tenure,’’ Williams’s statement said. “It is time for me to pursue other interests, but I will reflect fondly on my ULEM experiences.”


Williams, a Boston civil rights advocate who helped press for leadership change at Boston Latin School after racial controversy rattled the school several years ago, has held the top post for more than 18 years at the Roxbury-based Urban League. Opening in 1919, the group is one of the oldest affiliates in the national Urban League, its website said. The Urban League strives to increase self-reliance in the workforce and through economic development, the website said.

Under his leadership, the local group brought the national Urban League to Boston in 2011 after a 35-year hiatus. That same year, Williams’s organization released its much-heralded State of Black Boston report that exposed economic, income, health, and education disparities among whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

Williams has been a champion for pushing to change the image of Boston, a city perceived by many as racially insensitive. His organization has offered job training and pathways for women and minorities in carpentry as well job opportunities in the financial sector.

“Darnell Williams has been a transformative local leader in our city for many years,’’ Mayor Martin J. Walsh said. “I thank him for the immeasurable positive impact he has made on the lives of so many.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.