Through lifetime of service, Hollmon has addressed Milwaukee’s issues in holistic way

Whether it has been serving youth as a staff member at the Social Development Commission or leading one of the nation’s oldest Urban League affiliates as its president and CEO, one constant has remained throughout Ralph Hollmon’s nearly 45-year career in Milwaukee: Service.

“Service has been a big part of my DNA,” Hollmon said. “Because the problems in the community are complex, I thought you needed to do a variety of things if you wanted to have long-term positive impact on those problems. That is one of the reasons that I became involved in so many different diverse organizations and efforts.”

Hollmon points to his experience as a supervisor with Milwaukee County’s summer youth employment program during college as what inspired him to live a life of service, first in the government sector and later in nonprofits.

“Working with other young people and providing some guidance, direction and assistance to them sort of planted the seed,” Hollmon said. “None of us accomplishes things in life without the help of others. When you are fortunate and blessed, it is important to give back by helping others.”

Improving the quality of life for others, particularly people of color, led Hollmon over the years to contribute his time and talent to numerous organizations that work to give individuals the skills and resources needed to become self-sufficient. After nearly a decade at SDC and later stints at the Wisconsin Department of Administration, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee County Private Industry Council, Hollmon joined the Milwaukee Urban League, which was founded in 1919 to empower African Americans through education, employment and economic development.

Over his 14-year term, Hollmon raised the profile of the organization and its impact in the community. A prolific fundraiser, he brought in $20 million during that time, fueling the programs and services that have helped thousands of students with scholarships, residents find employment and small businesses succeed. He also led efforts that culminated in the nonprofit purchasing a building on North Avenue for $1.2 million in 2006 out of a desire for the organization to help reinvigorate Milwaukee’s Bronzeville area.

“Ownership, whether housing for an individual or family or a building for an institution, is one way you can build generational wealth,” said Hollmon, who, before he retired, helped the nonprofit raise the funds necessary to pay off its mortgage and create a building maintenance fund. “We were definitely a catalyst for helping to bring attention and resources back to Bronzeville.”

His passion for community and commitment to service continues in his retirement.

Less than one year after leaving the Milwaukee Urban League, Hollmon was recruited to join the board of America’s Black Holocaust Museum. At that time, the organization had been working for nearly a decade to revive a bricks and mortar location. Hollmon helped reinvigorate the museum’s physical presence in Bronzeville and set the stage for its long-term sustainability. He created a Legacy Circle by reaching out to 10 African American couples and asking them to contribute $10,000 each, which was then matched by philanthropist Chris Abele. He also advocated for the museum’s future by encouraging it to establish an endowment fund.

Other community efforts have included the Milwaukee County Office of African American Affairs, VISIT Milwaukee, Milwaukee Succeeds and Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

“I felt that in order to help improve things you had to have a holistic approach to community involvement,” Hollmon said. “Our diversity is a strength.” 

Past William C. Frye award recipients >>

2022 Greater Together award recipients

William C. Frye Award

Ralph Hollmon

Frank Kirkpatrick Award

Keith Stanley

Doug Jansson Leadership Award

Lauren Feaster

President’s Leadership in Racial Equity and Social Justice Award

José Olivieri