In a city with high poverty, segregation and low high school graduation rates, the Buffalo Urban League has some daunting challenges. Among the goals of this nonprofit organization are to empower minorities and disadvantaged individuals to obtain economic self-reliance, rights and power.

Buffalo Urban League President and CEO Brenda W. McDuffie sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer. Here is a summary of the interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full interview at

McDuffie was asked if she ever feels the Urban League’s mission statement is impossible to achieve.

McDuffie: No, because one of the things I get to see is achievements each and every day ... Whether it’s someone getting a job. Whether it’s a young person who’s making strides at getting a high school diploma or a GED. Or whether it’s a family who now gets back on their feet and is able to maintain their home because we have been able to negotiate a package with their mortgage-holder, and they’re able to stay in their home. So we just take what we do and the impact that we have, and we’re looking at that in a positive sense in terms of each person, each thing that we accomplish is a movement toward our region’s recovery and the individual’s recovery in terms of their financial, their economic and their social well-being.

Meyer: One of the things you do is provide some basic construction training. Are we doing enough to give people the skills they need to get into the jobs that are harder to fill?

McDuffie: I think we’re doing a lot of positive things in that regard. We’re ensuring that people have the fundamental, basic skills and competencies to be able to enter the jobs. Not only the jobs that are here now, but so that they can continue that learning process and move toward the jobs in the future.

Do we have to do more? Absolutely. As you mentioned earlier, we have a very high high-school dropout rate in this community. So we have to do even more in terms of not only addressing those young people so that they stay in school and graduate, but also going back to those who have not graduated and giving them a credential so that they can ... utilize their education, to their success.

Meyer: Another area is homeowner protection. We’ve heard so much about foreclosures – some nightmares.

McDuffie: We continue to be one of the agencies that’s working aggressively to address foreclosure. We offer individuals the opportunity ... to receive counseling so that we can work with them in renegotiating their mortgages. ...We’re able to, through our services many times, and I will say most times, be able to renegotiate those rates and be able to keep that person in their home.

Meyer: This [Buffalo Billion] that we’ve heard so much about. You are a member of the Regional Economic Development Council that’s helping to steer how those state monies will be used. You were [saying] that because the Billion for Buffalo project is very long-term in nature, some people may be skeptical. Your quote was: “People need to see things. Until they see action, they don’t believe it’s real.” How, with this big-picture blueprint, ... do you show immediate or fast results?

McDuffie: I really think you can show it. What we see is what we call birds in the sky ... the [construction] cranes that are an illustration of concrete projects that are happening in our community.