Ferrell leaves Urban League after 48 years
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
There was no second-guessing when Rev. Ernest Ferrell decided it was time for him to retire as president/CEO of the Tallahassee Urban League. He simply looked at the 48 years he’s spent running the agency that thousands rely on.
“The Urban League is in my heart, but there comes a time that you know your time is up,” said Ferrell, 74. “Some people find out in time.
“I don’t want to go out from the Urban League under any other circumstance than positive. I want to go out knowing that I’ve given my best; making a difference in the lives of people and that difference has been a benefit emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
During his tenure of almost 50 years, Ferrell has turned the agency into a resource for thousands. It is a life-changer for young people on a path of crime, the place where people turn to for assistance in restoring their near-inhabitable homes and assistance in other areas of everyday living.
On Aug. 17, the non-pro organization will recognize Ferrell’s legacy with a sendoff celebration. It takes place at the Civic Center, beginning at 7 p.m.
“He has done an outstanding job in this community,” said Curtis Taylor, another longtime member who will replace Ferrell as president of the organization. “He is a visionary. He has dedicated most of his adult life to the Urban League.”
Early as a young adult, Ferrell found himself in the midst of a civil rights battle when he was a bagger at a Winn Dixie store. When civil rights activists threatened to have Blacks stop shopping at the store if it didn’t hire a Black cashier, Ferrell was promoted to the position.
He still calls it one of the most profound experiences of his life. He specifically remember that soon after he began working as a cashier a White customer, who didn’t like the change, questioned his accuracy in totally up his groceries. The manager was called and a second tally of the groceries showed he was only a penny over on what the customer was charged.
Meanwhile, Blacks showed their support for the move by showing up in droves at his register, Ferrell said.
“They stayed in that line because they wanted to be a part of history,” he said.
He left Winn Dixie to serve in the Army for two years. He returned as a manager at the store. Ferrell was a student at FAMU when former FAMU president Benjamin Perry founded the Urban League and called him to join the board in 1970.
A year later he was on the board of directors and not long after was voted in as president, eventually having CEO added to his title.
One of his early challenges was to raise funds for the organization. His biggest donation of $7,500 came from the United Way. Not long after Ferrell’s leadership began to move the organization, United Way contributed another $7,500.
Ferrell took the organization to one that operated on a $2 million budget and hired as many as 48 people.
The home rehabilitation program has become a staple of the organization, which Ferrell admittedly didn’t know anything about when Perry called him.
“It grew on me,” he said. “Once it did, I fell in love with making a difference in people’s lives. That’s been my philosophy, making a difference in the lives of people. Hopefully when we have made a difference in their lives, they will reach back and make a difference in somebody else’s life.”
Ferrell had another calling – one that he said he couldn’t resist. In his late twenties, he became a preacher at Galilee Church in Chaires. That lasted 21 years before he moved to St. Mary Primitive Baptist Church, where he’s been pastor for the past 26 years.
“God called me to do what I do,” he said. “It was almost like Moses on the mountaintop calling. I accepted at the age of 29.”
Years earlier, Ferrell developed skills as a tailor and thinks it might have been his career choice had it not been for the turn of events in his life.
As he gets ready to be celebrated, Ferrell said he has no regrets about resigning. Especially after leading the agency without any scandals, he said.
“Things change, people change, boards change, leadership all those things change,” he said. “Comes a time when you know you’ve been at a place long enough.”