Our History

At the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1968, the country’s urban centers were in crisis. Cities across America struggled to cope with pervasive violence and social unrest, the outcome of years of social injustice. Communities were  challenged by the results of discrimination, segregation, poverty, unemployment,  as well as poor housing and education. Mayors, confronted with the escalating civil disorder, began a collaborative process to determine possible solutions.

Through a major grant from the Ford Foundation, three organizations including The National League of Cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and New Haven’s Community Action Institute designed a program to bridge the under representation of communities of color in city government leadership roles. In 1969, the National Urban Fellows Inc. was established at Yale University. 

Through the years, National Urban Fellows has developed programs that give emerging leaders the skills they need to succeed: 

  • The National Urban Fellows' signature MPA program has graduated 45 classes since its inception with various academic institutions including Yale University, Occidental College, Bucknell University, and over the last 32 years with the CUNY Bernard M. Baruch Austin Marxe School of Public and International Affairs. 

  • The establishment of the National Rural Fellows program from 1979-1989 with support from the U. S. Department of Agriculture and a graduate degree by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

  • The Corporate Executive Fellows program developed in partnership with the Graduate Schools of Business at Columbia University and Stanford University offered a 2-year Master's degree from 1983-1996.

  • The Environmental Science & Management Fellows program was founded with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1990-2000 and offered a 2-year Master's degree from Tufts University and Duke University’s Nicolas School of the Environment. 

We are now witnessing the fruit of our investment in the next generation of leaders. These include Denise Pease ('83) appointed by President Obama to serve as regional administrator for the US General Services  Administration's Northeast and Caribbean Region, Dr. Debra Joy-Perez (’97) Vice President Research, Evaluation and Learning at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Michelle J. DePass (’98), Dean of the Milano Graduate School at The New School, Ron Kim ('05) 40th District State Assemblyman and the first Korean-American ever elected to the New York State Assembly, Trey Martinez-Fischer ('95) Texas State Representative House District 116, Duncan Harrison ('09) the youngest elected City Council Member of Trenton, NJ, and Melissa Mark-Viverito (’95) who made history as NYC’s first Latina City Council Speaker.