Family influenced by Urban League continues to pay it forward
MADISON, Wis. — The Urban League has been around since 1910, providing resources for minority communities, with a goal of breaking racial disparities. Now decades later, the league is still having an impact on the African American community.
Jessie Wray doesn’t write hymns for a living, but decades ago he wrote a song for a Mississippi civil rights activist who was assassinated in the days of Jim Crow. Little did he know those words would resonate for generations to come.
“I was looking for a dream and I came to Milwaukee and the places in the north and found nightmares,” said Jessie.
Raised as a sharecropper in the Deep South, the World War II veteran said he found hope in the Urban League, a group that would continue to influence him throughout his life.
“I went to the Urban League and found that it was one way out of some of the things,” Jessie said in reference to racial disparities.
“The racist attitude of Jim Crow was following me everywhere I turned, but I learned a long time ago that if you let all those things hold you back, you’ll always be down the hill, you have to pull with all the forces that you can, and all the values that you can, and all the people you can to get out of those things; and when you’re out of them and get too old to pull then I began to let him pull,” said Jessie.
It’s that value he has instilled in all 10 of his children, including former Police Chief Noble Wray.
“I observed both my mother and father take advantage of thing the Urban League provided, but it’s also important to me on a personal standpoint. Thirty years of law enforcement observing the contributing factors that were people ended up in the central jail system. We know that if we’re going to make fundamental change that it’s about education,” said Noble Wray.
” I think in the next two to three years, the Urban League will play a major role in providing hope; just like in the 1940s and ’50s when my father walked in there. Just like 20’s when the first Urban Leagues were opened up and urban centers helping that first migration. Here in Madison, if you are willing to put the sweat equity together, if you are willing to walk into these doors, the DNA of the Urban League is that we will help support you and that’s what we’re here for,” said Wray.
Like father, like son; Noble is now stepping into his new role as interim president of the Urban League here in Madison. His family’s journey has come full circle.
“This is a proud moment for me, I’m so in awe at being able to sit here with my father and being able to embrace this historical legacy. In the African American community, African American males have a low life expectancy. To be able to sit here, with my father, 90 years old and to take advantage of his history and to take advantage of his wisdom is so important to me as a man,” said Wray.
And so lyrics become lesson and legacy.
“Make the worse better and the better best. That’s my life dream,” said Jessie Wray.