National Urban League Convention

I just attended the annual conference of the National Urban League in St. Louis. I have been on the NUL Board for 10 years, and just completed a nearly five-year stint as its Chairman. The National Urban League has an outstanding CEO, Marc Morial, and I have an equally outstanding successor as Board Chair, John Hofmeister, Country President for Shell.

Marc Morial’s keynote speech eloquently and meticulously described an Opportunity Compact that the Urban League has committed to as a mission for the people it serves, and that it wants government officials and partners to support as well. This compact, which can be accessed on the NUL website, NUL.org, consists of four cornerstone values: (1) The Opportunity to Thrive; (2) The Opportunity to Earn; (3) The Opportunity to Own; and (4) The Opportunity to Prosper. These cornerstones are supported by policy priorities described in the Compact.

The Urban League has been offering social services for 97 years and has over 100 affiliates around the country. Historically, it has been most known for its workforce readiness programs, and for supporting educational initiatives. More recently, it has focused on increasing homeownership among African-Americans.

What Marc has brought to the NUL in his four-year tenure as CEO has been a substantially increased focus on entrepreneurship to increase the pool of available jobs, and an even more significant focus on driving civic engagement through voting for African-Americans, and in having the Urban League play a more pivotal educational role in public policy debates.

The conference inspired me because four Democratic candidates, Senators Clinton and Obama, former SenatorEdwards, and Congressman Kucinic, thoughtfully and positively presented their agendas to the attendees, and Senators Clinton and Obama specifically endorsed the Opportunity Compact.

I was particularly pleased that, through ground-breaking research led by Drs. Silas Lee and Bernard Anderson, we were able to validate that, at a minimum, the Urban League service network has delivered over $2.5 billion of economic value to America over the last three years.

I also had one-on-one meetings with members of the Urban League movement. Bonnie Boswell, a Los Angeles-based newscaster and the niece of Whitney M. Young, the NUL CEO in the 1960’s and a civil rights leader whose contribution to civil rights has been underestimated because of the low-key way in which he influenced events, is raising money to do a documentary on Whitney Young’s life. His leadership skills are noteworthy because they go far beyond what he accomplished as a civil rights activist. He united white and black Americans, civil rights activists, corporate leaders and governments, and other diverse stakeholders in ways that enabled them to work together far beyond the specific tasks that initially brought them together. I will be helping Bonnie get this project completed because I believe strongly in it.

I also met with Melinda Emerson, a former NUL trustee and now a successful entrepreneur with her company, Open for Business with Melinda Emerson at www.melindaemerson.com. She is both passionate and extremely thoughtful about the key levers for success for any small business, not just female and minority-owned businesses. She is focused on the specific needs of “Mompreneurs,” businesses formed and operated by working mothers, particularly first-time working mothers, but her insights on how to succeed are more broadly applicable: the focus on targeting the right customers and getting to know their specific needs, networking, delegating effectively well before women have less time to spend on the business because of child-care needs, and finding ways to build continuous, long-term relationships with the best customers of a business.

Marc, Bonnie, and Melinda are just a few examples of the kind of people that keep me excited about the NUL. Their focuses on driving thoughtful policy positions and measurable success in implementing them, driving and educating people about effective leadership, and role-modeling excellence in entrepreneurial small business leadership respectively are just a few of the reasons I continue to support this great movement.