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Urban League CEO named White House 'Champion of Change'

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 11:29 p.m.
Esther Bush is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Esther Bush took the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh from an established civil rights organization to an influential advocacy group offering numerous programs for youth and adults, those who know her said.

Bush, 61, of Highland Park, was recognized Tuesday as a “Champion of Change” during a ceremony at the White House. The program honors ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities.

“I'm feeling a little bit of everything,” she said before traveling to Washington.

During her 19 years as CEO, the 95-year-old Urban League affiliate has become a strong presence in the community, offering programs in education, entrepreneurship, business development, health and quality of life, housing, and workforce and youth development.

“She positioned it to be a force to be reckoned with,” said Peggy Harris, CEO of Three Rivers Youth, who was part of a group of community leaders that met in 1994 to develop a strategy to woo Bush from New York back home to Pittsburgh.

Bush serves on numerous boards and committees, but she still reaches people in a personal way.

“It's been really great to learn with her and get to know her as a person,” said Naomi Allen, 15, of Garfield, whom Bush began mentoring four years ago. “The reason I tried a lot harder to succeed was because of her.”

Bush, who has a bachelor's degree from Morgan State University and a graduate degree from Johns Hopkins University, gets fired up talking about education.

“I've always been of the mindset that we have to give kids a chance,” she said. “If children don't achieve, I don't want it to be the adults' fault.”

The White House honor is well-deserved, said cCounty Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who has known Bush for about 15 years.

“She's terrific to work with,” he said. “Her dedication to the community and work with young people is very inspiring.”

Bush always made education a priority, said Rod Doss, editor and publisher of the New Pittsburgh Courier. He has known Bush for almost 20 years and worked with her on the board at the Urban League.

“She has dedicated herself to uplifting this community,” Doss said. “She is vital to this region.”

Bush worked as a high school teacher, college administrator and corporate consultant before joining the Urban League in New York City in 1980. She became president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh in 1994, where she oversees a budget of $6.5 million and more than 69 employees working in 29 programs that serve 28,000 people annually.

“I have known Esther for many years and have had the chance to serve with her on the United Way board,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II. “Esther is a dedicated community servant.”

Bush has served on the Pennsylvania Commission for Crime and Delinquency, Law Enforcement and Community Relations Task Force, the Governor's Commission on Academic Standards and the Voting Modernization Task Force. She is a member of several advisory committees at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

“She's a shining example of good leadership,” Harris said. “She brings a lot of energy to the process.”

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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