Marc H. Morial's remarks about the National Urban League's State of Black America 2009: Message to the President are as noteworthy as the report itself. In strong, unambiguous terms, the League's President/CEO, calls on President Barack Obama to address the specific needs of Black Americans. Acknowledging the progress represented by Obama's presidency, Morial emphasizes the report's disturbing, but familiar, indicators of inequality e.g., Blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated. Obama has said the way to help minorities is by improving education, employment and health care for all Americans, but Marc Morial feels that is not enough and is calling on the President to be more specific, ..."The issue is not only (Blacks) doing better in closing the persistent gaps (disparities) in statistics in this country.....Our index shows that the gap in African American (economic) status is about 71-percent that of white Americans. We will not rest until the number is at 100 and there is no gap," he says.
These are welcomed comments from the head of an organization that provides valuable services, especially in the areas of jobs, job-training and economics, but in recent years has not consistently been on the cutting edge of civil rights struggles. Morial is challenging the President and his administration to allocate resources to ameliorate long-standing problems that affect Blacks disproportionately.
Morial acknowledges that "self responsibility" is essential in improving the lives of Blacks, "We have some things in our own community where we have to step up when it comes to focusing and emphasizing the basic value of achievement and accomplishment in our children....We cannot be afraid to say turn off the TV, shut down the Internet, SpongeBob, Dora, all these folks need to take a break."
But Morial also stresses that public policy is a crucial ingredient. "It matters if your high school biology class has a lab. It matters if your second-grade class is air-conditioned." He feels public policy matters a great deal and requires extraordinary investments when it comes to issues like lifting up children who are disadvantaged.
During the presidential campaign, Obama side-stepped the issue of race whenever possible, focusing instead on a message of American unity. But as a U.S. Senator from Illinois, he wrote the forward to the 2007 State of Black America, which focused on the problems facing Black men. Obama said, "This sad story is a stark reminder that the long march toward true and meaningful equality in America isn't over, we have a long way to go."
"From the President's Desk" in the 2009 State of Black America, Morial writes that the American people elected Obama, renewing the nation's founding promise of freedom, equality and opportunity for all. " (But) there are still two stories to tell about Black America. One story of accomplishment, prosperity and increased political power fills us with pride and hope. The other story is very different. Fewer than 50% of African Americans graduate from high school in major American cities. Our prisons are disproportionately populated by African American males and the economic crisis is hitting our communities especially hard. In addition, we see an unemployment rate that is double that of whites, and wide academic achievement gaps."
For Morial, these facts underscore the reality that the election of the first Black president does not mean we can now all close shop and go home. Instead, he says it is more important than ever that the National Urban League, together with other organizations and individuals committed to positive change, work even harder to lift up our communities and move (ourselves) and the country forward.
The 2009 State of Black America offers analyses by leading experts on current conditions and outlines steps that President Obama and Congress need to take the nation, urban communities especially, toward full economic and social equity. It also highlights the voices of ordinary people, rarely heard in the national political discourse- and includes the "Equity Index" and thirteen essays on topics ranging from education and the environment to health, economics and African American male unemployment.
Notwithstanding the informative value of the State of Black America report, its potential for helping to focus Black leadership, collectively, on the specific needs of the Black population may prove to be even more important. If Morial presses his challenge to President Obama and the challenge is taken up by other leaders and organizations, Black communities throughout the nation could benefit immeasurably.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail