Pouring Hope into People and Communities

Thomas Beauford.

While Thomas Beauford Jr., MS ’11, EMBA ’08, remembers filling a classroom blackboard with the phrase, “Responsibility is knowing the consequences of one’s actions,” he does not remember what got him this penance. Though that memory is lost, Beauford is still in touch with Mr. Fucalaro, his fifth-grade teacher and first mentor. “He just poured into me,” Beauford said. “He gave me books like ‘Treasure Island’ and took me to see Broadway plays—he exposed me to so much that gave me a passion for learning and experiencing the world.” 

Beauford’s time growing up in the housing projects of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood was not unlike the experiences of kids and families in the Buffalo city communities he now serves as President and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. Getting from Red Hook to Buffalo, though, included extended stays in Bengaluru, India and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a banking executive. 

His trip around the world started with a high school work-study job at a bank that led to a post-college job at a small, family-run New York City bank. When it was acquired by HSBC, the opportunities offered by the global banking giant changed his life.

A Lifelong Learner

New international assignments became available every two years at HSBC, but in 2006 an opportunity in Buffalo felt much closer to home after Beauford had spent nearly four years in South and Southeast Asia. As he was preparing to travel back to the U.S., he researched learning opportunities and was drawn to the global emphasis of the UB School of Management Executive MBA program. 

His classes started on his first day in town. “I consider myself a lifelong learner, and UB’s EMBA program was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Beauford said. 

As he settled into life in Buffalo, it was meeting his future wife, a Western New York native, that made Buffalo feel like a home instead of an assignment. A life in Buffalo also offered ample opportunity for Beauford to indulge in his love of the arts and to pour that into his own children, particularly live music and shows at Shea’s Performing Arts Center. 

“The education is great, but it’s the network that you get!”

Just after his graduation from UB, HSBC began to consider reducing its footprint in the Buffalo market. It was then that Beauford learned how a student is always part of UB’s network.

“I remember calling Courtney Walsh, who was [assistant dean] at the School of Management, and I told her I just didn’t know what my next move was going to be,” Beauford said. Walsh not only reminded him of his skillset but also immediately put in him touch with an alumnus. 

“He came right over to the airport where I was preparing to leave for a business trip and we just sat and talked until I got my bearings,” Beauford said.

“I was reminded of not only how marketable I had become, but I also learned that your colleagues, the students, and the people who were there as administrators at UB – you never leave their guidance.”

– Thomas Beauford, MS ’11, EMBA ’08

Beauford was able to stay in banking in Buffalo, which gave him the opportunity to volunteer doing the mission-oriented work he felt called to do, including serving on more than a dozen non-profit boards whose missions range from economic empowerment to culture, and from higher education to healthcare. 

A Dream Job

In 2019 Beauford felt the pull to shift his days to mission-centered work and the right opportunity presented itself at the Buffalo Urban League (BUL). He envisioned building the organization’s capacity in part by leveraging the relationships from his banking career and time at UB.

“It was my dream job where I could focus on empowerment of communities similar to the one where I grew up,” Beauford said. When he took the role in mid-2020, several issues were disproportionately impacting those communities: COVID-19, the census, the national election, and national tensions around race and law enforcement. 

When on May 14, 2022, a white gunman walked into an East Side Buffalo grocery store and murdered 10 and wounded three Black citizens, the BUL was able to immediately deploy their robust team of Federal Emergency Management Agency-trained crisis counselors, who are people of color themselves. 

The visibility of the BUL during that emergency was pivotal—enough to capture the attention of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who in fall 2022 made an unsolicited and unrestricted gift of $6 million to the Buffalo Urban League. The funds support the BUL’s mission of programming, services and advocacy that empower African Americans, other minorities and disadvantaged individuals to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.

The donation sparked a phone call from Mr. Fucalaro, the fifth-grade teacher turned mentor who helped shape Beauford’s life and goals. “I will use every resource I have, including the ongoing partnership of UB, to help this community heal and move forward,” Beauford said.

Published July 25, 2023