‘The goal is parity’

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial
Photo: Richard B. Muhammad

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, sat down for a brief One on One interview with Richard B. Muhammad, editor-in-chief of The Final Call Newspaper Aug. 1, as the organization’s annual conference came to a close in Chicago. Mr. Morial talked about the group’s economic empowerment focus and reflected on its near 100-year history. The Urban League will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.

Editor Richard B. Muhammad (FCN): You’ve had entrepreneurship sessions this year. How is this year’s conference different, and does it reflect any differences, any nuanced differences, any substantial differences, as you look forward at the League’s empowerment strategy?


Marc Morial (MM): One of the things we have to push more in the direction of is economic self-sufficiency and as you know the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was one of the earliest pioneers in the 20th century in promoting ownership of businesses that serve our community. The League is squarely behind that kind of thinking and we devoted a great deal of activity at this conference to entrepreneurship, wealth building and asset protection–helping people who may be in trouble because of the subprime crisis, helping people who are in fact looking for a job or a better job. So there is a great deal of solution-oriented, self help discussions as well as discussions of public policy. Where we are today is a focus on economic empowerment. So many of our community’s challenges relate to economics and therefore the solutions are economic solutions.

FCN: Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Urban League, as you look at where Black America is, a Black president, good times, but still some very intractable problems. What do you see as some of the major issues we need to look at and over the 100 years; what are some of things that stand out in your mind?

MM: To take the issues of today: Economics and education. The two “E’s” really are the most significant issues because education is a pathway and a passport to economic development, economic self-sufficiency, economic self-determination and economic empowerment. It’s a pathway and a very important pathway. Our focus on that is going to strengthen in our second 100 years as we become solution oriented. We see health as an economic issue. Those without health coverage, those who are more obese tend to be people with less income, less wealth, less access to fresh fruits and vegetables, less access to doctors and hospitals, less access to parks, playgrounds and exercise facilities so economics is the issue that’s going to confront us.

Big victories in 100 years, obviously the election of President Obama is a huge significant milestone, the ’63 March on Washington, and all of the events probably from 1954 to 1968 were transformative–Brown V. Board (Supreme Court decision outlawing school desegregation), Little Rock, Birmingham, March on Washington, passage of the Civil Rights Act, passage of the Voting Rights Act, passage of the Fair Housing Act, the creation of the Congressional Black Caucus, the election of African American mayors as part of this historic transformation. The most successful civil rights act was the Voting Rights Act; we went from having a handful of elected officials to having people sitting in every corridor of power in this nation. The election of African Americans and those from other communities that are sympathetic, or empathetic, or supportive of our concerns is not the goal. It’s the means to a goal. The goal is parity, economic parity, educational parity. The goal is parity.

FCN: We’ve seen a tremendous amount of criticism or even attacks on the president–whether or not he is a U.S. citizen; he was recently called a racist. What do you see at work here and why do you think there is such a kind of continued onslaught against him?

MM: I see naked raw politics from people who did not win the election, who want power again; who didn’t win the election whose agendas and policies caused the subprime crisis, the housing crisis, the jobs crisis, the financial services crisis. These policies and their promoters, many of them are the deep, deep, deep wizards behind the curtains on these attacks on the president and the attacks are part of politics–some are fair, many are not. It’s always fair to have a debate about public policy. But personal attacks like the inane and insane point of view that the president is not a citizen of the United States that’s, you know, just such a distraction and designed to divide people.

FCN: How does Black America balance its love and support for the first Black president with protection of its own interests–even if it means challenging him or organizing so that policy reflects our interests?

MM: We are to challenge all elected officials. But, it’s also important, I believe, that the president and every president–this president especially given what he inherited–ought to be given what I call running room, a chance to get his program in place. I was somewhat surprised that within weeks of his inauguration, some opponents gave him no running room, no opportunity to put his program in. It’s as though they still wanted to continue the campaign. And, for our community, it is a very important delicate balance, because we have to recognize Barack Obama is a president, not a messiah, not a savior. We have to hold him by the same standard we’ve held everyone else, not create this supernumerary higher standard for him. The closest analogy on a completely different level than Barack Obama were the challenges the first Black mayors faced–Coleman Young in Detroit, Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Tom Bradley in Los Angeles, my father (Ernest “Dutch” Morial) in New Orleans, Richard Arrington (Birmingham), Harold Washington (Chicago), David Dinkins (New York). If you go back and study their trials, and tribulations, and their successes, and expectations and it’s much different being an executive than it is being a legislator.

FCN: There has often been a seeming debate between impacting public policy and self- sufficiency …

MM: They go hand in hand. We don’t want to have false intellectual debates about how to get there. We’ve always known that self-determination, personal accountability and responsibility are important, but also our government and the institutions that we support in this nation, they’ve got to be accountable to our communities also. I think it’s always interesting to have the debate. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to keep our eye on the prize, keep our eye on the objective, understand where this path is going to take us, and where it should take us–and where we want to go.