Harry L. Alston, Ph.D. is a 2011 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dissertation Committee

  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Alan Guskin, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • James Johnson, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Michael Bennett, Ph.D., External Reader


Action research, Engaged scholarship, African Americans, Black leadership, Civil rights organizations, Community-based organizations, Community economic development, Community development, Nonprofit management, Shared leadership, Social enterprise

Document Type


Publication Date



What leadership approaches and operational strategies should traditional civil rights organizations, like the Urban League, undertake to in this post-civil rights era? Specifically at the local level, what expectations must the Urban League of Central Carolinas satisfy to reassert its leadership in Charlotte? In recent years, an increasing array of social enterprises across different sectors has emerged to address failures in civil society. Civil rights organizations have long served a niche in the battle for an equitable society. However, the role of civil rights organizations in community revitalization has been diffuse and subject to fundraising constraints. I undertook this action research study to assist the Urban League of Central Carolinas in developing earned-income strategies based upon their assessment of market needs, resources and socio-political realities. The pursuit of such strategies will enable the agency to create new partnerships, renewed community engagement and greater financial sustainability. This study demonstrated the recurring nature of strategy development and execution. Interestingly, both external and internal environmental factors surfaced the following lessons: (1) Civil rights organizations remain relevant. There remains an important role for the ULCC (traditional civil rights organizations) in ameliorating the conditions of social and economic inequality; (2) Leadership by the ULCC must be fluid, vigorously asserted and continuously exercised. In addition, capacity building, engaged leadership and strategic alliances are necessary steps; (3) The depth and breadth of problems such as poverty, homelessness, and educational failures require comprehensive solutions, collaborative efforts and shared leadership; (4) Social enterprise strategies require organizational change and generative governance; and (5) Action Research practitioners must be alert to organizational readiness. Undertaking A/R efforts asks us to pay keen attention to team development and team process as key elements of one's methodologies. This study contributes to the field of community development and social change by broadening our understanding of the ways in which community-based organizations and their leaders evolve in response to economic and social influences. Such an understanding may enable us to improve organizational practice and improve local policy decisions. The electronic version of this dissertation is available in the open-access OhioLINK ETD Center,