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National Urban League Looks Within
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 7/26/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Because America has fallen short on services to the poor and people of color, the National Urban League will use its annual convention this week to focus on resources within the Black community and establish an “opportunity covenant” for the 21st century, says National Urban League President and Chief Executive Officer Marc Morial.

“This year’s convention is very different from others,” says Morial. “We probably have fewer ‘Washington election officials’ than we’ve had in the past…We want to focus on the community building itself up. We also want to focus on the community developing a conversation about what we need. This is the year after the presidential election. We have to contextualize it.”

Morial says focusing internally does not mean that the federal government will be absolved of its responsibility to help improve the plight of the needy.

“The opportunity covenant is about jobs, housing, entrepreneurial and business development, health care and the right of all Americans to have health care, and education, five pillars of the covenant,” says Morial in an interview with the NNPA News Service.

“This is a covenant between the people and their government, a covenant between people and society, it is basically a covenant that we think is needed to develop the country in the 21st Century and to develop African-Americans.

The right to a job that pays a decent wage, the right to affordable health care, the right to quality education from early childhood to higher ed, the right to become a homeowner and to build assets, the right to pursue your dreams if you want to become a business owner and an investor.”

In the 95th year of the NUL, the nation’s premiere Black economic organization, Morial says political speeches will be limited in order to allow the organization to focus inward on the Black community with the goal of setting an agenda for Black America, an opportunity covenant.

Although some politicians, such as New York’s Democratic Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton and Maryland’s Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, have been invited to speak, in most instances, invited politicians will observe from the sidelines as civil rights and grassroots economic leaders discuss among themselves what future actions to take, Morial says. Even President Bush was not invited this year.

The Urban League’s State of Black American report, issued in April, details the seriousness of the problems facing Black America. It noted:

• The median net worth of an African-American family is $6,100 compared to $67,000 for a White family;

• The homeownership rate for Blacks is nearly 50 percent versus more then 70 percent for Whites;

• On average, Blacks are twice as likely to die from disease, accident, behavior and homicide at every stage of life than Whites. Life expectancy is 72 years for Blacks and 78 years for Whites;

• The inequality gap between Whites and Blacks in the criminal justice system is expanding, growing from 68 percent to 73 percent since 2003.

• Blacks are three times more likely to become prisoners once arrested and a Black person’s average jail sentence is six months longer than a White’s for the same crime - 39 months versus 33 months.

In addition, the unemployment rate remains in double digits for Blacks, currently at 10.3 percent, more than twice the rate of Whites at 4.3.
Instead of big-name politicians such as Bush, who spoke at NUL conventions last year, in 2003 and in 2001, grassroots activists and civil rights leaders such as Rainbow/PUSH coalition’s Jesse Jackson Sr., National Action Network’s Al Sharpton, the NAACP’s Bruce Gordon, former NUL President and CEO Hugh Price, and activist Dick Gregory will speak at plenary sessions.

Among discussions will be topics such as the plight of Blacks males, entrepreneurship and business development, Africa, and a plenary session on history as well as the future of the civil rights struggle.

In looking inward, the National Urban League panels will determine what demands should be put on government and what demands the Black community must place on itself.

“When it comes to jobs, we must sharpen our skills and raise children with an emphasis on education, not just school districts educating, but making sure they read and go to school every day. We must realize the importance of homeownership and sacrifice some things to accomplish that,” Morial explains.

“It’s going to be a great conference, “ Morial says. “Black people are at a point where we have to place demands on the institutions in American life and we have to place demands on ourselves... It’s not a one-way street. It’s a two-way street for us. And I think we should not be afraid to say we’ve got to make demands on our government, we’ve got to make demands on the private sector, but we’ve got to make demands on ourselves, too.”


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