The Role you Play Should Never be Underestimated

Marc Morial

Speaker Series Welcomes National Urban League President Marc Morial

On September 23, The Frederick Gunn School welcomed Marc Morial, who since 2003 has served as President and CEO of the National Urban League,  the nation’s largest historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization, as the first featured guest in our 2021 Speaker Series. Morial was introduced to the school by Trustee and former Board Chair Jonathan S. Linen ’62, who formerly served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Urban League, and whose father, the late James A. Linen III P’62, was the National Urban League Board President in the 1960s. 

Morial served as the Mayor of New Orleans from 1994-2002 as well as the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He previously was a Louisiana State Senator, and a lawyer in New Orleans. He is a leading voice on the national stage in the battle for jobs, education, housing and voting rights equity. A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, and the University of Pennsylvania, he has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine, one of the top 50 Non Profit Leaders by the Non Profit Times, one of the 100 Most Influential Black Lawyers in America and he has also been inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Our purpose as a school tonight is two-fold,” Head of School Peter Becker said in his introduction. “First, to learn from a prominent national figure in Mr. Morial about an important organization in American history, the one that he leads. He has also written books on leadership; he is known as a leader of leaders. But second, and maybe more importantly to our lives together to start this school year, is to consider how we can apply the lessons learned about creating just, equitable and fair communities in American cities to what we really have here, which is like a micro city as a boarding school. At The Frederick Gunn School we believe that you will learn to be an innovative, active citizen through practicing citizenship here, and that practicing citizenship means working intentionally to create just communities.”

The National Urban League was founded in 1910 at a time when there were profound movements of people taking place in the U.S., Morial explained. “One movement was the movement of immigrants from places like Italy and Ireland and Eastern Europe. They came through Ellis Island. They may have been ... fleeing tough economic times, political repression, difficult attacks, perhaps on their religious beliefs, and they came to the United States. But there was another movement of people, not talked about as often, but just as profound and important. That movement was the movement of Black people, formerly enslaved, who were leaving the South. They were leaving rural areas, they were leaving jobs as farm laborers, they were leaving a place where segregation had become the practice and the law of the land. They were fleeing the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and lynchings and violence and the stripping away of the right to vote that had occured for Black people after the reconstruction period.” 

Over 30-40 years, some three to five million people moved from the South to cities such as New York, Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland, “looking for economic opportunity, looking for less racial discrimination, looking for the opportunity to build their lives,” Morial said. The National Urban League was founded to give a voice to and provide support for Black migrants who came looking for better economic opportunity but instead found “difficulties of a different stripe,” from finding quality housing and schools for their children to quality jobs. Over time, the organization spread, using a social worker-case management strategy to provide services to hundreds of thousands of people.

Today, the National Urban League is also an advocacy organization, and earlier in the day, Morial said he had been on a call with the White House, with the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President for Public Engagement, the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, and other civil rights leaders. The conversation centered on the treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S. border with Mexico. The purpose of the call was “to express our concern and our belief and, quite frankly, our demand, that these migrants be treated with humanity and with fairness, because they are escaping, if you can imagine, difficult conditions in places Mexico and Brazil and Argentina and Guatemala and Honduras, and other nations, where they had been transferred after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.”

Conversations about diversity and inclusion in America are important to this generation of students, and to all generations, Morial said. “The nation we live in is changing. It’s changing demographically. Technology is changing the way we live. Globalization is becoming a reality of economic life. We are becoming a nation that in some 30 years will no longer have a majority ethnic group. We will be the first true, multicultural, multiracial democracy in the history of humankind.”

It is therefore fundamentally important to understand that, historically, all groups have not been treated equally and have not had a fair economic path. “In order for this nation to move forward in a sustainable way, in a successful way, we all have to ensure there is equity and economic and social opportunity for all people. We have a difficult legacy of history in this nation,” Morial said. “There is much about this nation that generations today and beyond have to address and have to correct - America’s original sin of enslaving other people and, later on, the continuation of that sin with a system of segregation, or American aparteid. Our determination has to be to build a nation that is on the shoulders of the past but is stronger than anything we have ever seen.”

Morial said his goal in speaking to FGS students was to pique their interest in learning more about the National Urban League, but also about the nation’s movement for civil rights and equity “all the way back to the Abolitionists of the 1780s in Pennsylvania, of which Benjamin Franklin became one; Continuing in those that fought in the early part of the 1800s to build an antislavery movement; It did culminate in a vicious war; To those that sought to build a better nation during the days of reconstruction; To those all the way through the civil rights movement who fought for justice,” he told students, noting that young people have always been at the forefront of change, from the 1960s to the marches that took place in the aftermath of the tragic killing of George Floyd last summer.

“The future is indeed yours. It’s important to learn the history, to learn it in a truthful and sometimes even painful way. But it is as important to make a commitment that in your life, both individually and collectively, you are going to be a champion for equity and fairness and racial justice. The nation is depending on you, our communities are depending on you, and the role that you play should never, ever be underestimated.” 

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Speaker Series Marc Morial