WASHINGTON — At 100 years old, the National Urban League Movement is as vital as it’s ever been, President/CEO Marc Morial said. “The National Urban League may be 100 years old but we don’t have any gray hair,” he stated. “We are more energetic, more focused and more determined than ever before to create a level playing field in our nation.”

Empowerment has been the League’s mission since its inception in 1910; and from July 28-31 about 15,000 people will gather in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that legacy.

But this convention will not be merely about self-adulation, League officials said.

“We have approached the centennial this year in an effort to make sure that we weren’t just holding a party for ourselves,” Morial told the AFRO. “ the framework of the celebration … is the recession.”

Maudine R. Cooper, president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League, said her affiliate has seen an increase in the demand for direct services such as gas and electric subsidies, afterschool care, housing counseling and the like. “People are hurting. This is the first time we’ve had men, a lot of men, coming in for services … in tears because these are men who’ve never needed anything. They’ve kept their families strong and safe and now they’re coming to us . It’s really sad,” she said.

“And so how we get out of this as a strong people, that’s what I think this conference is going to be all about.”

In light of that mission, the conference will, for the first time, feature a day of service.

Conference delegates will volunteer with one of several projects throughout the metropolitan area, including painting inspiring murals and creating youth literacy kits for D.C. school children, creating quilts for children of deployed military men and women, helping families transitioning out of shelters, doing chores at a farm and more.

“We don’t just come in here with fine suits and stay in an air-conditioned building and talk the good talk, drink the good drink, eat the good food and go home,” Morial said of the projects. “This is not a frivolous undertaking. We have fun, but with a purpose.”

Cooper said a three-day expo will also provide a plethora of opportunities for everyone, including the general public. It features a career fair, where job seekers can sign up for one-on-one career counseling and interview with more than 100 recruiters; a college fair, featuring more than 40 institutions, college prep sessions for parents and training for nonprofit, youth development and school staff; and six empowerment zones, where attendees can get information on personal finance and investment, technology, housing and foreclosure prevention, taking advantage of the “green economy” and more.

The idea is to have a conference that not only celebrates the League’s past, but also offers solutions for the current challenges facing communities and also a blueprint for the organization’s – and the nation’s – future, League officials said. Thus the theme,

“Empowerment Time: Past, Present & Future.”

“I think you’re going to see us work really hard at the centennial to talk about the Urban League of the future, to make the celebration about the next 100 years and what we need to do and how we’re going to do it,” Morial said. “We’ve been through a decade of war … of bailouts … of tax relief for wealthy Americans … of unemployment and subprime and hurricanes and now a bad oil spill…. So we have to focus on what’s next.”

The first day of the conference is dedicated to the League’s first 100 years and will feature former NUL presidents such as Vernon Jordan, John E. Jacob and Hugh Price; other civil rights leaders such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and former Ambassador Andrew Young; lawmakers and Black icons such as author/poetess Maya Angelou.

The second 100 years will be addressed on the second day, with an expected speech by President Barack Obama, several workshops a town hall meeting that feature luminaries in sports, business, entertainment, advocacy and other fields, and the launch of the Young Professionals Summit.

For entertainment, participants can attend the benefit concert, featuring Fantasia and Ron Isley; a performance of the play, Black Angels Over Tuskegee, featuring actor Lamman Rucker and a bevy of receptions and other networking venues.

“There’s something there for everybody,” Cooper promised. “This conference is going to be the best that the Urban League has ever done.”