The League also pays tribute to Nichols’ legacy as a trusted leader and mentor who championed efforts to inspire youth to become productive citizens and future leaders of their community. Those whose lives he touched will remember a patient instructor, a strict but caring school administrator, a principled professional, and a seriously fun-loving and witty colleague.
Nichols was identified as a candidate for the Minneapolis Urban League’s board of directors back in 1987, and would eventually become board chair. He was trusted and admired amongst MUL funders and stakeholders, and because of his ability to effectively guide the MUL’s mission, the agency moved progressively forward during a critical juncture in its history.
Nichols grew up admiring planes, and at the same time that he was teaching and lending his academic expertise to educators locally and nationally, he was working towards fulfilling a goal to one day fly his own plane. He didn’t keep his fascination with flying to himself – he used it to inspire youth to excel in their studies so that they too could explore a career in aviation or aeronautic engineering. With the assistance of the Twin Cities Airport as it was known then, Nichols established the Flying Club, an aviation program for students of color.
Nichols’ autobiographic summary highlights the indelible mark he’s made in Minneapolis – particularly as it relates to educational enrichment and expanding opportunities for youth. Here are Mr. Nichols’ own words given in 2006 at an event that honored elders whose lives have impacted their communities and the nation.
“I studied industrial education at the (University of Minnesota) and also worked to support my family during that time. After graduation I taught electronics in the Minneapolis Public Schools. It was tough to support five children on a teacher’s wage so I moved into administration. The school asked me to design a school for high school dropouts. I developed the Work Opportunity Center to meet that need.
I became director of vocational education for Minneapolis Schools. Because of the success of the vocational programs and the Work Opportunity Center, I was contacted by the office of President Johnson and the secretary of education to advise Congress on educational programs. I worked in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years, mostly on weekends. I was also doing educational consulting and covering many miles across the country. It was during that time that I started flying.
While working in Minneapolis, I was also involved in the design for MCTC (Minneapolis Community and Technical College). As part of my doctoral program through Colorado I helped design a school similar to that of IDDS, very open. I worked in that field for a number of years and built schools in Minneapolis and Anoka related to aviation.”
In a statement from the MUL, the League said “These types of social innovations are exactly what the Urban League recognizes as critical to the advancement of our Gateway to Opportunity strategic plan. The MUL’s 13th Grade, Social Enterprise Academy and Project Big Step are reflections of his insight. We’re proud to acknowledge that the life and legacy of Charles Nichols continue to impact the mission and vision of the Minneapolis Urban League.”