This year, the National Urban League Convention will be bigger than ever. A number of celebrities, activists, scholars, businesspeople, politicians civic leaders – and even President Obama – will join the civil rights organization in Washington, D.C. to celebrate 100 years of service and activism.
President Obama’s speech, scheduled for Thursday, will focus on education reform, emphasizing his signature Race to the Top program and other initiatives undertaken by his administration over the last 18 months of his presidency.
The NUL’s 2010 convention, CEO Marc Morial tells BET.com, will also be a launch pad for the group’s agenda for the next 100 years.
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“This year’s theme is Empowerment Time,” says Morial. “It has a dual focus - 100 years of the Urban League movement and the launch of ‘I am empowered,’ the second century of the Urban League campaign.”
To be held at the Washington Convention Center, the conference kicks off tomorrow and will last through Saturday.
“We are overturning every stone and raising every dollar,” Morial says. One of the main pushes of the group right now is to attract younger people. “We want to be the civil rights organization of choice for the young people,” he added, pointing to the multi-generational makeup of the League’s membership. The organization has a track for young professionals called the NULYP (National Urban Young Professionals). It also offers membership for college students and teenagers.
For this year’s conference, the League is reporting the largest registration of young professionals in its history.
On the policy front, the Urban League is directing most of its energy to four main priorities: Education, jobs, health care and housing.
“The message we want members to take back is that there is a significant amount of unfinished business around economic parity in this country,” says Morial. “The current recession and economic downturn threatens gains we’ve won in the past - especially with jobs and educational achievement.
For African Americans, home ownership has also declined 3 to 4 percent. And even though President Obama signed the Health care bill into law, it will take a number of years for most of the benefits to kick in.
When asked about the recent NAACP-Tea Party exchange, Morial says he agrees with the NAACP resolution.
“I think the NAACP was right to push back on the Tea Party Movement. “Certain elements of that group represent an effort to turn back the clock on progress we’ve made in America, he believes. “Some of the images carried around at their rallies are distasteful, and inappropriate.”
Morial says the group is also running a smear campaign against Obama, calling the President a socialist and foreigner.
In addition to President Obama, other speakers and guests this year will include the group’s former presidents John Jacobs, Hugh Price and Vernon Jordan. Other speakers listed are the NAACP’s Ben Jealous; Marian Wright Edelman; Bishop Paul Morton and wife Debra; BET CEO and Chairman Debra Lee; scholars Manning Marable and Charles Ogletree; Andrew Young, Laila Ali, Rep. Jim Clyburn, Ambassador Susan Rice; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; actress Angela Bassett; Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Rep. Barbara Lee; among others.
Fantasia and Ron Isley are headlining a special benefit concert on Friday night at Washington, D.C.'s Warner Theatre.
An exhibit open to the public at the Washington Convention Center will feature photos, artifacts and other memorabilia that document 100 years of Urban League history.