While the National Urban League’s (NUL) 2021 Annual Conference, a four-day event that ended Oct. 1, has completed its yearly cadre of informative sessions, the business for the historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization continues 365 days a year.
And under the guidance of the Urban League’s c, an attorney, economist and former mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002, the future remains bright.
Dedicated to economic empowerment, equality and social justice since its founding in 1910, the Urban League continues its mission to elevate the standards of living for African Americans and other historically underserved groups.
But what’s on the mind of Morial as the pandemic continues to claim victims, while Congress stands deadlocked over an infrastructure bill and what visions for 2022 does he see in his crystal ball?
Morial, 63, answered these, and other questions, during a one-on-one interview with The Washington Informer.
Washington Informer: How would you assess the recent annual conference and was it a success?
Marc Morial: We had over 6,000 people registered to participate after the opening day (Sept. 28) and Vice President Harris really got things going in a tremendous way. Each day had a different focus so people could connect with the resources and assets they needed. There’s no other conference like ours.
WI: What message dominated the conversation during the conference?
MM: We encouraged people to ‘stay woke’ and reminded them that we remain in the business of building a new normal as we continue to battle COVID-19, racial injustice and economic challenges. During the still ongoing pandemic, we’ve lost 40% of Black businesses and we still don’t know how many Blacks have lost their homes. We’ve got to protect our democracy and maintain the push for legislation that would evoke change and give all Americans a better shake – a fairer shake.
WI: Should we still be concerned about the former president, his rhetoric and those who embrace his ideas?
MM: Of course. Trump is still around and his words continue to be spoken by most members within the Republican Party who still offer both their loyalty and fealty to him and to his ways. He has the ability to impact his constituency. It’s not enough to just say ‘you’re woke’ because he’s not going anywhere. Some may believe that because he lost the last election, that his philosophies died with him but what he stood for and still stands for – white nationalism and isolationism – only continue to thrive in America.
WI: Is there even a glimmer of hope for African Americans?
MM: Blacks face challenges – gun violence, poverty and health disparities, among other things – but we’re strong. Many of us are achieving and excelling, leading successful businesses and taking care of our families. We’ve never looked at ourselves and felt that we were defeated. We have strong elected officials. But look, I’m not a cynic or one who bends his knee to self-pity. Blacks have little time for that. We’re in a time when we must remain vigilant warriors for equity and social justice. We have no other choice – that’s our responsibility and our legacy.
WI: As we continue to lose so many members of the old vanguard of Black leadership, are we adequately preparing today’s youth for tomorrow?
MM: I believe so. There are a lot of folks who don’t get the public attention but who are working diligently behind the scenes. There are young Black leaders moving up the ranks within the National Urban League and in cities like Louisville, Chicago, Peoria and New Orleans. They’re not leaders on the national stage, yet. And then we have a cadre of great new elected officials. Some of them are now members of Congress but more can be found at the local level – in Little Rock, Jackson and Birmingham – cities that aren’t normally featured within mainstream media.
Sure, we have many prominent leaders who are growing old. Still, there’s one thing to remember about being a leader on the national stage – you have to want to be the leader. Even in my position, I can never forget that I stand on the shoulders of others. I’m trying to develop a new generation of local leaders, moving them closer to the stage. But you cannot just step forward at the time of protests. What happens between the protests and securing beneficial forms of public policy – that’s what’s done in the trenches.
Make no mistake – activism and civil rights work are not about being a celebrity. They’re about making a difference, knocking down barriers and opening doors. When I see some of these young mayors, elected congressmen and congresswomen, even within my own movement, I see folks who could step up and take the reins without missing a beat.
WI: How do you assess the still-prevalent COVID-19 pandemic and the need for all Americans to be vaccinated?
MM: One of the tenets of freedom is responsibility. I want to be free but if my freedom infringes on your freedom, if you’re placing me at risk of exposure to a deadly virus, this business of having a supposed right to place me and mine at risk is nothing less than being irresponsible. If you don’t want to be vaccinated, stay in your house. Suppose I said I wanted to walk into restaurants and other public spaces without any clothes? What would we think about that?
There are boundaries in a civilized and free society. And with freedom comes responsibility. That conversation has been absolutely missed. The vaccine is our only weapon against this pandemic. We beat smallpox and polio with a vaccine – we eliminated the risk for others. We beat the measles, mumps and rubella with a vaccine. We did all of that with medicine and medical advancements. It’s like Harold Melvin said: ‘Wake up everybody . . . we’ve got to think ahead.’
WI: When you have a few quiet moments, what do you enjoy doing?
MM: I exercise, hangout with my wife and our children and go to sporting events. I really like music and miss going to concerts. I’m a big sports fan, too, and in our house on Sundays, the games are on all day. I grew up as an athlete and am still a fan of basketball, football and boxing. And while he’s been gone now for several years, I’m still a diehard Muhammad Ali fan. In fact, I just saw the Ken Burns documentary, which I believe The Informer recently wrote about, and found the series to be incredible.
Find out more about Marc Morial and the National Urban League by visiting www.nul.org.