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New Urban League, NAACP Projects on Tap

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

The first Monday of every month, we catch up with the NAACP and the National Urban League to hear what they're working on and to discuss issues in the headlines. We're joined by Marc Morial, the Urban League's President and CEO; and Bruce Gordon, President and CEO of the NAACP.

Gentlemen, welcome.

Mr. MARC MORIAL (President and CEO, National Urban League): Great to be with you.

Mr. BRUCE GORDON (President and CEO, NAACP): Good to be with you, Ed. Good to be with you, Marc.

Mr. MORIAL: Great.

GORDON: Bruce, let me start with you. You are announcing today a very important initiative that the NAACP is getting behind.

Mr. GORDON: Yes, today commemorates the 25th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic in America. We are partnering with the AIDS Institute, the Black AIDS Institute, the Urban League, and other organizations to begin a massive mobilization.

Ed, you need to know that today more than half of all Americans are living with HIV/AIDS. And millions infected HIV/AIDS are African-Americans. Among women, black accounts for two-thirds of new infections. And a recent Center for CDC Controls Studies tell you that they would estimate half of all black, gay, and bisexual men in America, in urban centers, are already infected.

We've got a major statistically valid and proven epidemic in our communities, and we are pushing to expand for the proven prevention work that's been available across this country. We need to protect access to treatment, which means we've got to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act. And what we've really got to do in our communities, Ed, is we've got to decide and deal with the fact that this stigma we attach to homosexuality is, in the end result, killing our community. We've got to put it to a stop.

GORDON: Bruce, do you believe that stigma is the reason we've seen these numbers not only increase over the last decade or so, but these are numbers that have not been necessarily silent in the black community. It seems as though, as you suggest, we've turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to all of this.

Mr. GORDON: I think that the stigma is part of it. I also think that there is a complacency. I think there's something about HIV that causes folks to say, it can't happen to me. They think that they are protected. I feel that what we have failed to do is to step up the one thing that we know can successfully deal with prevention, and that is education.

So I think we've got to turn ourselves on to this reality. Deal with the stigma, but more so deal with the fact that this is affecting many different groups in our community. It's not something that is simply associated with homosexuality.

GORDON: Marc, Bruce mentioned that the National Urban League is also on board with this initiative. I know that this has been a topic that you've talked about for some time.

MR. MORIAL: You know, the - I think the important thing is this is I think yet another example where there's good, strong, positive collaboration between the NAACP and the National Urban League and a broad array of civil rights community organizations around a very significant issue. And today's announcement and today's event is about raising awareness and trying to get this issue from sort of being an underground issue to a top shelf issue in our community.

Awareness is - the lack of awareness is the end result of the stigma associated with it, so I hope that the numbers - and Bruce just, I think, very aptly outlined the high proportion of new cases that are coming from the African-American community - are going to cause people to wake up and become much more aware. And then to take steps on an individual basis, but also for us to continue to pressure the Congress not only to reauthorize the Ryan White Act, but to invest more money.

I think we're all concerned about AIDS in Africa, it's at a pandemic proportions there. But we've got to recognize it's not just a problem there; it's a problem in America's urban communities.

GORDON: All right, let's turn our attention now, Marc, to what the Urban League is doing with the Black Executive Exchange Program going on at the 37th Annual Conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida this week.

Mr. MORIAL: We're going to have one of the largest gatherings. This is a program that's about 30 years old. It's one of our oldest continuously running programs, and what it does is it takes African-American corporate executives and gives them an opportunity to become, if you will, faculty members for a day or two on the colleges of historically black colleges and universities across the nation.

And this program has had great growth. It's a simple basic notion, and that is that our young people on college campuses need to have exposure to role models, to people who have achieved success, people like Bruce Gordon, who was highly successful in the corporate arena at Verizon; and Verizon is one of our big participants.

So we're going to have a meeting, if you will. It's a conference but it's really a summit meeting - down in Florida and what will be - we'll have about 300 to 400 corporate executives, mostly African-American, there but we'll also have 75 to 100 student leaders from around the nation. And I think it reflects a need for us to invest more in leadership development and an awareness amongst our young people. So that's the Black Executive Exchange Program. We certainly urge anyone who might be listening who's interested in this type of initiative and supporting it to check out the information that's contained on our website at nul.org.

GORDON: Particularly parents who have young people in colleges, when you talk about mentoring and getting a leg up, that is really what you need.

Marc, before we go, I also want to talk to you about what you have been involved with on a peripheral, and that is Michael Fletcher's involvement with The Washington Post and the series What Does It Mean To Be a Black Man? You've been extensively quoted and I want to get you and Bruce involved in this. I just did a town hall meeting for Black Enterprise where we focused on the crisis of young black men.

We are really, and sometimes we don't like to say it out loud, but really at a crisis point with young black males.

Mr. MORIAL: This is a state of emergency, and I think Black Enterprise, a number of people have - and the National Urban League - we've championed this cause now for three years in an effort to first raise the awareness. And I think people say, well, what can we do? What are the problems?

I think very simply, we've got to raise the profile and recognize that when it comes to the status of our black boys and men, we are going backwards. That's not to say there are not many highly accomplished successful African-American men and young men and mature men here in American society, but that something has gone amiss. When you look at student achievement levels, when you look at high school dropout rates, when you look at the number of African-Americans on college campuses, African-American young men on college campuses, the numbers are not pointing the right direction.

So we've pledged, I think, to raise awareness about this issue and to urge organizations across the board to raise awareness. And I'm happy that The Washington Post has decided to do a rather in-depth piece. And I was troubled by the polling information that they reported on, recently, which sort of indicated that African-American men and American society, at large, have a negative view of African-American men. And I think we've got to raise up the Bruce Gordons, the Ed Gordons, the people who have, who are successful need a higher profile in our community so that our young boys and young men understand their options and their proper role models. And a young man without a proper role model is like a vessel without a compass, sometimes with no clear direction. So we - there's so much we need to do, but mostly we've got to keep the conversation about this issue alive and raise it in our community to compel people to take action.

GORDON: Bruce, much like what we talked about with the AIDS epidemic here, there is a sense sometimes of not knowing how to get started. There's a sense of embarrassment sometimes when we look at these numbers, but we have to go beyond that and really tackle this issue.

Mr. GORDON: There's no question about it, and it seems to me that, at the end of the day, one, we've got to accept accountability. We have to roll up our sleeves. This is one of these issues where there's not a silver bullet, but that really requires is people to choose to be involved. Our young men need us touching their lives. We also need to protect them.

I was in Panama City this weekend leading a rally regarding Martin Lee Anderson, who was a victim of the boot camp system in Florida - 14-years old, was beaten to death by the guards. I raise that issue for two reasons. One, we need to be strong parents to do strong parenting to keep them out of those boot camps in the first place. But secondly, when our young people are abused, we need to come to their aid. And I don't think that there's anything slick and fancy that we need to do. What we need to do is to be involved, to roll up our sleeves, get into our communities, not use the excuse that we're busy people, simply decide and commit to the fact that this is a priority. Our young men are struggling, and we've got to own the solution.

I think once we take that on and we're accountable, Ed, then there are any number of things that could be done that would be highly effective.

GORDON: Bruce, real quick for me, with about a minute to go for each of you. First, I want to ask you about the NAACP filing suit against the Omaha School District that, as we've reported on this program a number of times, is trying to re-segregate its school system, led by Ernie Chambers there.

Mr. GORDON: I'd like to think that Ernie Chambers is a legislator who has a genuine interest and the best interests of young, black students; but, at the end of the day, the legislation that was passed there is illegal, and it is wrong because it creates three districts that are structured around racial lines - black, Hispanic and white - and we can't let that happen. What we are -we've filed suit, working with the Legal Defense Fund. We need to get into that community, acknowledge the fact that Omaha has a problem, that the quality of education in the public school system is substandard, but then come up with a solution that's legal and doesn't set us back, in terms of equal access to quality education. We're going to stay on this case, Ed, until we get the right outcome.

GORDON: All right, and looking forward, Marc, the end of next month - that's July - in Atlanta, Georgia, the 96th annual conference for the Urban League. The theme is building economic power for black Americans.

Mr. MORIAL: Yeah. We're going to be focusing, as we move forward with our new strategy, on jobs, housing, and economic empowerment. And we'll be in Atlanta, in fact, kicking off our conference at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. It's the first time our conference has been held in Atlanta in many, many years, perhaps two decades or so. And I think it's important because Atlanta is not only the cradle - one of the cradles of the civil rights movement, but it has also been a symbol of the new south and the advancement of African-Americans both politically and economically, and the use of, I think, political advancement to try to create a strong economic base.

So we're going to be in Atlanta. It's a great meeting - our meeting - the NAACP's meeting - multi-historic organizations. Both our conferences in the summer, and it's about fun, but it's also about great purpose, great discussion, meetings, seminars, and we certainly encourage people to come by to Atlanta late this summer.

GORDON: All right.

Mr. MORIAL: Last week of July...

GORDON: Last week of July, July 26th through the 29th, Atlanta, Georgia. Marc Morial and Bruce Gordon, thanks so much gentlemen.

Mr. GORDON: Thank you.

Mr. MORIAL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Coming up, a terror plot foiled and same sex marriage, the Constitutional question. We'll discuss these topics and more on our Roundtable. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.