National Urban League Starts Redeeming the Dream in Philadelphia

The organization's annual convention has expanded to include voting rights and the effort to seek justice for for Trayvon Martin.

Posted: 07/23/2013 05:14 PM EDT

When the National Urban League planned its annual conference, which begins Wednesday in Philadelphia, the plan was to focus on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, economic empowerment and job creation. There will be college and job fairs and programs to promote small businesses and entrepreneurship. The Urban League will showcase its Jobs Rebuild America program to show it's leading the way in job creation and training to prepare people for work.

But recent court decisions, including the George Zimmerman verdict, also have forced the civil rights organization to expand the event's mission.

"Our focus on the march has a renewed purpose because of the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act and the justice for Trayvon Martin movement sweeping the nation," NUL president Marc Morial told BET.com.

The Zimmerman verdict, he added, will be part of a lot of ongoing discussions about a broad range of issues, including the criminal justice system and the challenges that African-American boys and men face. The slain teenager's mother and family attorney have also been added to the list of speakers.

"Trayvon Martin has become symbolic of a larger set of maladies that affect this nation," Morial said.

As Congress grapples with how to develop a formula to determine which states or parts of states should be required to seek pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making any changes to its voting rules, Morial wants his organization to be a guiding light.

The conference will include an emergency voting rights session to help set a framework for Congress to "fix the damage the Supreme Court has done to the Voting Rights Act," he added. The goal is "to build the will and an understanding" that a fix is needed to ensure that everyone has the freedom to participate in the electoral system without restriction.

Despite this expanded agenda, the upcoming anniversary of the March on Washington, during which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famed "I Have a Dream" speech, will loom large over the convention. Morial hopes that its "Redeem the Dream" theme will have a particular impact on young African-Americans from communities across the nation who are aware of the sacrifices made during the civil rights movement, but don't quite realize they, too, have a role to play.

"This will be a chance for young people to be exposed and hear personal reflections from people like John Lewis and Jesse Jackson Sr., who worked with Dr. King," Morial said. "People should see that they have a responsibility to reaffirm, recommit and re-energize our work around the vision King expressed at the [original] march of a nation of life, liberty and economic opportunity for all and one that has the will to close the economic, educational and gobs gap that confront this generation."

The Urban League sees it as an opportunity to inspire some, who can then go on to inspire many.

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(Photo: Courtesy of The National Urban League)

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