In celebration of its 100th anniversary, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial visited the Washington, D.C. area on March 3 to tout the organization’s new four-pillar pledge to empower people of color.

That pledge states that by 2025 every American child will have an opportunity at a quality education and access to jobs with living wages and good benefits, and every American will live in safe, affordable housing that’s energy efficient and have access to quality and affordable health care solutions.

Morial acknowledges that if these goals are to be met, the responsibility must be shared by all. That’s why he’s touring the country asking everyone to get involved.

“We want to reject the idea that these goals are all the individual’s responsibility or all the government’s responsibility,” said Morial. “We’re saying it’s got to be a broader responsibility.”

A total of 36 national organizations have already signed onto the pledge, he said.

Morial said he understands that people may be skeptical of the success of such a venture, and said he knows that civil rights organizations don’t effect the kind of change they did 50 years ago. However, he said the National Urban League is viable and ready to get things done.

“We’re not a think tank…we’re not a talk tank…we’re a ‘do’ tank,” he said. “We provide services to two million people in cities across the nation.

“People ask me, ‘is the Urban League relevant?’” he said. “The only thing I say is, ‘go discuss that with one of those two million people. We’re relevant to them.”

Part of the reason, he says, for the decline of faith in civil rights organizations is the misunderstanding of what improving civil rights actually entails. “Forty years after the great civil rights victories of the 60’s, we have allowed ourselves to drift into a romanticized notion of what civil rights was all about,” he said. “We think that sometimes all it meant that somebody filed a lawsuit and went and marched. Those were tactics that were very important. it really was the pursuit of freedom, justice and equality. I think that pursuit is relevant today.”

Morial believes one of the primary civil rights issues plaguing African-Americans today is affordable health care.

“Make no mistake about it, there are 40 million-plus people with no health insurance and almost 50 percent of them are people of color,” he said. “While it hasn’t been described as a civil rights bill, I would say comprehensive health reform legislation can be seen as a bill that furthers civil rights in this country.”

He knows health care reform has its opponents, such as the Tea Party members who have organized in support of conservative issues. He’d like to see a similar effort made by African-Americans toward getting the bill passed.

“We have to weigh-in with our voices say I’m for ,” Morial said. “We need the folks, who are going to stand up for the kind of public policies that are going to help us, to know that they’re not out there by themselves. That’s how we have to be more engaged.”

Morial will continue to advocate for the pledge and push for health reform in advance of the National Urban League’s national conference to be held July 28 to July 31 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

For more information on the National Urban League’s pledge, visit Iamempowered.com.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO