“Saving Our Cities” is the focus of the 2015 National Urban League Conference which gathers at the Greater Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida from July 29 through Aug. 1.

An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 persons are expected to convene for the annual conclave which often sets the tone for the civil rights organization’s advocacy.

“The annual conference is always an exciting time when we meet together and talk about the issues of our time and the agenda we want to bring back to our communities,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, in a preconference interview with the AFRO.

Making this year more thrilling is the attendance of five of the candidates running for president in 2016—U.S. Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson.

“The fact that we’re in a warmup year to the presidential election is exciting,” said Morial, adding that this is the first time all of these five candidates will be in the same building at the same time.

“The important element of this conference is that these five presidential candidates will be engaged in explaining how they would save our cities if they became president,” the former New Orleans mayor added. “We have shared the Black community’s ‘21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom’ with them and we’ve asked them to respond. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say.”

Under the banner of “Saving Our Cities,” this year’s convention will focus on education, jobs and justice in communities of color.

“The backdrop of this is all the racial justice incidents that have occurred in this past year,” Morial said, referring to a barrage of Black deaths at the hands of police and vigilantes that prompted massive protest across the nation and movements such as #BlackLivesMatter.

Issues related to poor education, joblessness and an often discriminatory criminal justice system are at the heart of many of the troubles plaguing poorer, innercity communities, and addressing those matters will be at the heart of efforts to “save” them.

For example, Morial said, for far too long the disparities in jobless rates—with Blacks faring the worst—have persisted. That feeds into other ills and amplifies communities’ anger and disillusionment.

“We have got to provide work opportunities for our young people. Without jobs they’re going to be hopeless, it exacerbates poverty in their communities, and it breeds a cycle of violence,”Morial said. “

And poverty and hopelessness,” he added, “are the tinder that allows police misconduct to be a spark” into demonstrations such as the sometimes violent unrest that erupted in Baltimore in April following the death of a 25-year-old Black man while in police custody.

Morial decried the inadequate response to the glaring need for criminal justice reform highlighted in the past few years.

“I am not satisfied. There are a number of cases where no indictments have been made, which underscores the idea that the justice system, in many ways, doesn’t work,” he said. “We have to hold the presidential candidates’ feet to the fire. We have to hold the mayors’ – who appoint police chiefs – feet to the fire. We have to hold local state’s attorneys’ and prosecutors’ feet to the fire.

“They have a responsibility to ensure police departments are serving the people.”

In terms of the high rate of Black unemployment, Morial said, “We need more investment in job creation, more investment in job training and greater effort to provide capital to small businesses.”

Throughout the conference, political candidates and others will be challenged to find solutions to these ongoing concerns. For example, the conference will feature a “Hackathon,” a competition in which civic leaders, technology developers and other innovators will be invited to design original applications to alleviate the direst concerns facing communities of color and possibly win $2,500 in cash and $25,000 in prizes. The event is hosted by the National Urban League in partnership with Digital Grass, TechConnect and presented by Comcast NBCUniversal.

For the full schedule of the conference, visit: https://app.box.com/s/ f0phtyppnt71dkfkz8ooov023ljco041

The AFRO will feature Interviews with the five presidential candidates on their platforms for the Black community over the coming weeks.