Grandberry on Different Stage with Same Mission

by Jim Longworth

Bob Brown, Oprah Winfrey, and Keith Grandberry. (Courtesy Photo)

As CEO of the Winston Salem Urban League, Keith Grandberry acted locally while thinking globally. Today as founder of Helping Hands Consultants, he acts globally but thinks locally.

I first got to know Keith when he was transforming the Urban League from a local agency with limited scope, into a regional organization that served people from all walks of life. His approach to meeting the needs of a diverse population was particularly effective following the great Recession of 2008, and subsequent economic downturn that resulted in unprecedented lay-offs. I recall asking him once if having the word “urban” in its title, meant that WSUL only served minorities. Keith responded by saying, “The Urban League is in 18 counties and many of the people we serve are not minorities. We serve everyone. We serve middle-income people. We serve folks who have lost their jobs, and who need to be re-trained. We try to provide a service to everyone, because we believe everyone is important.”

I quickly learned that Keith meant what he said. He worked with Mayor Pro Tem Vivian Burke and Piedmont Federal to have the bank donate a building to the Urban League where the City of Winston-Salem, Forsyth Tech and Wake Forest University partnered with the League to establish a training center for people who had been displaced from their jobs. He obtained a $100,00 grant from the Wachovia Foundation that allowed WSUL to help unemployed managers and executives prepare to re-enter the job market.

He expanded the senior program from two counties to eighteen, making it the largest senior subsidized program in the State, and one of the largest in the nation. In addition, those seniors had access to social media and computer training through a Digital Inclusion program. As a result, people over 55 had the skills to re-enter the workforce.

And Keith founded the Youth Leadership Institute in partnership with Winston-Salem Forsyth County schools’ Alternative program and the Nehemiah Leadership In stitute, in an effort to stem the rising high school dropout rate. Historically about 70% of students who are sent to alternative schools drop out. But Keith teamed with volunteers from Winston- Salem State University and the City to create a mentoring, tutoring, and paid internship program that engaged students. The result? 95% of the students stayed in school.

Keith also used his considerable networking skills to persuade high profile individuals to support and participate in a number of initiatives. For example, nationally recognized facilitator Stedman Graham helped structure the youth program. Meanwhile Keith partnered with UNC School of the Arts to establish the Larry Leon Hamlin and Sylvia Sprinkle Hamlin scholarship. And he persuaded his friend Maya Angelou to lend her name to Novant’s Women’s Health and Wellness Center, one of the few such centers in the country named after an African American woman. As such, Grandberry demonstrated that education, the arts, and healthcare were all inexorably linked to job readiness and economic development.

Given his many accomplishments and track record for empowering people by using creative strategies, it was not surprising that last year, following President Obama’s African Summit, Keith was encouraged by his mentor and White House advisor Robert J. Brown, to start his own company.

Helping Hands Consultants is a global development company that is, among other things, engaged in numerous projects that will strengthen Africa’s economy. Thus far, Keith has met and negotiated with leaders from the Kingdom of Lesotho, Ghana, Liberia, Botswana, and South Africa (including Winnie Mandela) to bring jobs and industry to the continent. But American and European companies don’t want to invest in countries with an unskilled labor force. That’s where Keith’s success at the Urban League comes in handy. In some areas of Africa, 90% of high schools have no library, and most provinces have no hospitals. And so, Keith is networking with investors to establish libraries and hospitals, along with job training programs, all in an effort to empower people by providing education, healthcare, and resources that will make them employable. It is the same multi-faceted, humanitarian approach to economic development that Grandberry used here locally, and now he is making it work on a global stage.

When he’s not traveling overseas, Keith appears as a regular member of my Triad Today Roundtable panel. Recently I asked what has motivated him all these years to promote economic empowerment, and he cited the teachings of his Mother, Grandmother, Winnie Mandela, and Bob Brown, saying, “Helping others is not a choice. You don’t choose to help others only when you’re up, or ignore them when you’re down. You choose to help others because paying it forward is God’s way of giving his blessings through us.” His is a philosophy that has helped thousands of folks in the Piedmont Triad, and is now doing the same for thousands more in Africa. They are fortunate to have Keith Grandberry as an advocate, and I am proud to have him as my friend. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).