In the coming months, the nation will begin celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I Have a Dream" speech. But findings in the National Urban League's 2013 State of Black America report show that King's dream has not yet been fully redeemed.
"There's been important progress since 1963 when it comes to the reduction of poverty and education attainment levels for African-Americans," NUL president Marc Morial said in an interview with BET.com. "But the gap in economics remains the same."
According to the report's equality index, African-Americans have achieved just 71.7 percent of overall equality with whites, and 56.3 percent in health, 79.7 percent in education and 57.1 percent in social justice.
Morial attributes the gaps in part to race, which he says remains a challenging issue in American life. But, he adds, the effect of the recession on African-American communities cannot be discounted.
"The thing that's most disappointing is the way the recession has cost us gains in employment and home ownership and how it's been difficult for the Black unemployment rate to come down or the homeownership rate to go back up even though we're 'in recovery,'" Morial said. "The long-term factor is race still matters, but the recession was like salt on a wound."
But Morial says the Urban League is committed to bringing about change to close the gaps, not just talking about it. Next month, the "do tank," as he's dubbed his organization, will launch a new initiative called Jobs Rebuild America, in partnership with private sector firms, the federal government and foundations.
"It's actually three initiatives in one: job training and placement, entrepreneurship and small business services, and after-school programs for youth," he explained.
Initially, NUL affiliates will receive sub-grants from the organization to carry out the initiative in about 30 cities across the nation, and there are plans for expansion.
When the 2014 State of Black America is released, Morial hopes the greatest progress will have been made in Black unemployment and high school and college graduation rates. He also would like to see the record number of voters that turned out to elect and then beat back efforts to suppress their vote to re-elect President Obama replicated in upcoming elections.
"Our voting power remains the most important right we have. We should not have to rely on a charismatic figure to drive our vote out; we've got to vote by habit and every time," said Morial, adding that sustaining the level of turnout for Obama could be one of the president's most important and enduring legacies.
"It also says to candidates who run for office that by speaking and appealing to our communities' issues, we can make a difference in elections."
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(Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for National Urban League)