By Marc H. Morial, President and CEO
National Urban League
From July 27-31, some of the nation’s foremost power brokers, celebrities, corporate leaders and activists will convene at the Washington Convention Center in the nation’s Capital to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Urban League. Our Centennial Conference marks the completion of our first century of leadership and service, and kicks-off a second century calling for a new civil rights strategy to meet the new challenges to equal opportunity in America.
The National Urban League was founded in crisis 100 years ago as an organization devoted to paving the way for African American men and women migrating from southern farms to northern cities in search of jobs and a better life. Together we have made great strides and have torn down many of America’s ugly walls of discrimination and injustice — from the segregated water fountain to the separate and unequal classroom to the Whites-only Oval Office. So, there is much to celebrate. But there is also much unfinished business.
America is once again in crisis. You know the story: 15 million Americans out of work. A national unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent. African American unemployment much worse at nearly 16 percent. A million young people dropping out of school each year. African Americans and Latinos — two to four times as likely to be unemployed or to lack health insurance. An epidemic of housing foreclosures. Tax cuts for the rich. Jobs shipped overseas. A trillion dollars misspent on the war in Iraq. A man-made disaster in the Gulf. And in the face of all of this, we have a coalition of the unwilling in Congress who have turned their backs on the middle class and refused to take action to create jobs. In the face of all this, we have the emergence of a new right – the Tea Party movement that seems determined to turn back the clock.
Obviously, we have work to do. Fortunately, we have support from every sector of American society to help us do it – from the White House to the foot soldiers working in our cities to create jobs, improve education and expand opportunity. Invited conference speakers include President Barack Obama; NAACP President, Ben Jealous; Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele; Democratic National Chairman, Tim Kaine; UN Ambassador, Susan E. Rice; Harlem Children’s Zone founder, Geoffrey Canada; poet, Maya Angelou and Hip-Hop activist, Common.
In our first century, the National Urban League helped desegregate the nation’s schools and open doors of opportunity that had historically been closed to African Americans. In our second century, we will forge new partnerships, employ new strategies and use new tools of social networking and technology to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to walk through those doors.