The 2023 National Urban League Conference in Houston marked one of the largest gatherings on urban advocacy and civil rights. An estimated 3,000 people attended the four-day conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX, which was expected to “produce a direct economic impact of $4 million for the region.”
In the past 50+ years, the National Urban League (NUL) “has been fighting to empower underserved communities…and this annual conference is a time when leaders and professionals from all over the nation meet to brainstorm ways to further that agenda.” There are 92 affiliate chapters throughout the country in the Urban League network.
The conference has not been held in Houston since 1999, and National Urban League President & CEO Marc H. Morial, who’s been at the helm of the NUL for the past two decades, said the decision to come to the Lone Star State was strategic. “We have come to Houston because Texas seems to be in a race to the bottom of the barrel reveling in the rolling back of civil rights and advancing the cause of racial injustice, not justice.”
“We have chosen Houston because Houston is America’s most diverse city,” continued Morial.
In a press release, Morial stated, “Now more than ever, our country has seen an explosive growth in domestic extremism and the threat it poses to our communities, our families, and our democracy.”
“The cynical efforts to deny the freedoms of our most marginalized communities need to be challenged directly and undeniably. While we’re in Houston, we will raise our voices in the fight to restore and advance the rights of our most vulnerable communities,” he added.
The conference this year, which occurred “[o]n the heels of recent life altering decisions handed down by the Supreme Court and a looming Presidential election” didn’t pull any punches, and sent a strong message right out of the gates to Governor Abbott on the first day.
The first, opening event was an “Urban League Fights for You” Rally, which “addressed civil and women’s rights, gun safety, economic justice, voter suppression, and much more.”
During his remarks Morial stated, “Stop censoring our books and trying to re-write our history,” adding “I never thought I would have to come to Houston and call out the governor of the state; get your hands off the HISD school district.”
During a fireside chat with iconic civil rights advocate Reverend Al Sharpton and Melanie Campbell, CEO & President of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the two leaders discussed the significance of this month’s 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Sharpton said, “Marching does not solve a problem, it exposes a problem.”
The conference also convened four Black mayors of major cities – Eric Adams of New York City, Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Brandon Johnson of Chicago, and Sylvester Turner of Houston – where they spoke with one another in a roundtable-type “discussion about the ongoing attacks on democracy, including the education system in their respective cities.”
Mayor Adams spoke out about the pressure Black men face from the media to avoid being labeled as the “angry Black man,” saying “We are so afraid of getting the title that could destroy our lives. If you get the title of angry Black man, you will not raise up in corporate society, you will not raise up in Hollywood, you will not raise up on a sports team, you will not raise up on politics.”
The conference also had a free family day, where people who registered could attend and take advantage of “school supply giveaways, health screenings, legal counseling clinics and a career fair.”