Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League civil rights organization, shares with ESSENCE.com the number one issue facing the Black community today and what ESSENCE Festival attendees can expect from his keynote address.
ESSENCE.com: Why are you excited to participate in the ESSENCE Festival?
Marc Morial: I am always thrilled to be a part of the Festival because I am one of its founders. When I was mayor of New Orleans, the Festival’s genesis was the 25th anniversary celebration of ESSENCE magazine. I watched and participated in the growth of the Festival for the first 10 years. It’s the most fantastic, largest, exciting, purposeful gathering of African-Americans anywhere in the U.S.
ESSENCE.com: How does an event like the Festival help to uplift the Black community?
Morial: It is a party with a purpose. From the very beginning, that was the moniker. You get an opportunity to see incredible entertainment and attend Empowerment Experience sessions with speakers talking about politics, economic issues, personal empowerment, health and well-being. The Festival gives the audience access to leading voices in the nation in a way and fashion no one else does.
ESSENCE.com: You’re delivering a keynote speech at the Festival. What can people expect?
Morial: I am going to talk about jobs rebuilding America, contemporary civil rights, and this generation’s obligation on these issues. The framework of it is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This is a historic year in American history because of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and all that happened in 1963, which was a very important year and a year of change.
ESSENCE.com: How do you view the current state of race relations in this country?
Morial: I always view race relations as a continuum and sometimes a roller coaster. We are a better nation than we were 50 years ago. There are also forces in this country who want to turn the hands of time backwards, and so there is a battle between what I call progress and retrogression in this country.
ESSENCE.com: As president of the National Urban League, what’s the main issue impacting the Black community today?
Morial: Jobs and the economy are the leading issues facing our community because of the effect that the recession had. It is causing job loss, home ownership loss, and overall loss of wealth. All roads lead to jobs. Good jobs that pay good wages lead to a better quality of life and enable people to build assets for themselves and their families.
ESSENCE.com: How is the National Urban League working to improve employment rates in this country?
Morial: Our number one project is Jobs Rebuild America, which is a 50-city, $100 million initiative to put people to work, help young people go to college and help entrepreneurs build their businesses. We have job training programs, after-school programs and many initiatives to help small business owners. We are not just talking. We are acting.