By Genoa Barrow, OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
After five years at the helm of the Greater Sacramento Urban League (GSUL), its president and CEO Cassandra Jennings is stepping down from the local workforce development agency to lead St. Hope.
The Sacramento OBSERVER spoke to Ms. Jennings on Tuesday, when she made the move official.
“I’ve done what I came over here to do,” she said. “Of course you can keep doing that 100 years if you want to, but I think I have another opportunity to serve my community and want to do that.”
Ms. Jennings counts among her accomplishments at the GSUL, the purchase of four land parcels in Del Paso Heights for the proposed mixed use affordable housing development that became known as Marysville Grand South; returning the agency to its founding neighborhood of Oak Park, where she successfully launched the agency’s Health Equity Initiative featuring the Oak Park-Black Child Legacy Campaign; establishing the Sac GreenEquity Cannabis Entrepreneurial and Business Development technical assistance program; and reestablishing the GSUL HUD certified Housing Counseling Agency. During a time of social and civic unrest, Ms. Jennings was also a founding member of the Build.Black coalition.
Prior to taking over at the GSUL, Ms. Jennings worked with the City of Sacramento as Mayor Kevin Johnson’s Senior Adviser and Assistant City Manager. She also acted as Deputy Executive Director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) for six years.
Ms. Jennings serves on a number of local, state and national boards. Some of which she’ll vacate as they were linked to her role at the GSUL. She’ll likely step away from the Sacramento City Unified School District’s African American Advisory Board, due to St. Hope’s status as an operator of a charter school system and the potential for any conflict of interest.
“Many of them I will still stay on because I’ll still be working in the community representing the community and fighting for what’s right and I guess they value my opinion,” she said.
She’ll remain on the Greater Sacramento Economic Council and the California Community Colleges Advisory Board, where she acts as co-chair.
“Whether it’s going to be me as an individual, me in my new role or the Urban League, the important thing is going to be that we continue to have a voice for our community and for our people at the table,” she said.
“We know that’s part of the Urban League’s mission. That’s part of my DNA. That’s part of the mission for the organizations that I choose to associate with or be a part of. That may be my ‘value-added’ to them. That’s going to stay the same, no matter what seat I’m in.”
The GSUL’s vice president, DeNelle Ellison will serve as interim president while a national search is conducted. Ms. Jennings initially served on an interim basis, before throwing her hat into the ring and says she’ll support Ms. Ellison if she chooses to do the same.
“She’s a great asset to this organization and she has so much knowledge about the movement and about the (Urban League’s) programs,” Ms. Jennings said.
“Women rock,” she said of the odds that another woman would take over.
“We step in, we step up and we show out,” she shared.
Ms. Jennings said after St. Hope courted her, she prayed about accepting their offer.
“I wrestled with it and I thought, ‘This is not about me. It’s about the movement and it’s about where you position yourself to be able to help our people.’ I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had here to really serve and get some things done and I look forward to helping and supporting the next leadership in getting more done,” she said.
Ms. Jennings replaces Jake Mossawir as St. Hope’s CEO. Mossawir saw its Sacramento High School be named the top school in the state for African Americans, secured funding for a new middle school campus and launched new businesses and real estate projects throughout Oak Park.
“Cassandra has a strong history in Sacramento and experience in community economic development, business support, and civic engagement,” Mossawir said in a statement. “We are excited to have her join the St. Hope family and know that she will have a steady hand in guiding St. Hope through this transition and into many exciting new opportunities ahead.”
At St. Hope, Ms. Jennings will “continue to build on the strong delivery of programs and services” and promises “more community, more partnerships and more intentionality about how we sustain and build wealth for our community.”
“It’s an opportunity for me to bring my experiences and my aspect of community to something that has absolutely been built to be important in our community and I’m going to keep it that way. It’s a growth opportunity for me and certainly a growth opportunity for them as they move into this next era,” she shared.
“Oak Park has been through quite a bit and it’s not over. When you think about the South area, there’s still areas that need to be addressed and people doing good work that we can partner with. There are still opportunities and that all resonated with me.”