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Marc Morial Chats With

Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, presides this week over the 100th anniversary conference of the civil rights and economic development organization. Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, took time before the conference, which is being held in Washington, D.C., to talk about the organization’s civil rights, economic development and education agenda.

Diverse: Why was Washington, D.C. chosen to host the National Urban League’s centennial conference?

Marc Morial:  The choice of Washington D.C. for our conference is for multiple reasons. The first reason is that it is the nation’s capital, the place where public opinion is shaped and made. Number two, it is a great city that everyone always wants to visit. For a conference, it’s excellent. Thirdly, it’s a great place which will attract first-class speakers and panelists, which is always a critical part of a conference.

A lot of our focus at this conference is the elevation and promotion of our new “I Am Empowered” campaign, which is the campaign that we have launched to set goals for the nation that should be accomplished in the 21st century.

Diverse: Can you say more about those goals?

Marc Morial: Let me lay them out for you. The campaign revolves around four goals.

The first goal is every for American child to become  ready for college, work and life. It is focused on getting young people prepared for college and the world of work. When we look across the landscape, we see a low high school graduation rate amongst African-American kids, but also a low graduation rate across the board. That is affecting the social and economic fabric of the nation, but particularly that of urban communities and especially urban African-American and Latino communities.

So the first goal is preparing every American child to become ready for college, work and life. Our campaign is about aspirational goals.  It focuses on where we want to be as a nation in 15 years by 2025.

The second goal is that every American have access to good jobs that pay living wages with benefits. We think that the objective, one of the objectives of economic policy in this country, should be to create good jobs and to create low unemployment. And we think that policymakers, business leaders and politicians ought to be measured by that.

Our third goal is for every American to live in safe, decent, affordable, energy-efficient housing on fair terms. We think that, coming out of housing foreclosure crisis, we have to reaffirm the right to housing in this country that is safe, decent, energy efficient and affordable.

The fourth goal is that every American has access to affordable health care solutions.

Diverse: Can the National Urban League play a role to help the nation reach President Barack Obama’s 2020 goal for the U.S. to regain global leadership in awarding college degrees.

MM: Let me tell you what we do and what I think is important. We are a large provider of afterschool programs and we are a large provider of early childhood services. So, one of the things we think might be integral to achieving this (college-completion) goal is a significant expansion of early childhood education, because early childhood education is one of those things that has broad  public support, and every piece of data says that the kids that have a quality early childhood experience in preschool and kindergarten are more successful in school and do better.

We also want to dramatically expand the work we do with youths in the afterschool space.

The third place we work is with high school dropouts, usually young adults from the ages of 18 to 25 who did not finish high school for whatever reason.

We want to focus policymakers on the work that we do in communities that make a difference in people’s lives and say to the president that we’re playing a role that helps with the college completion goal.

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