Black leaders call on new generation of activists

Take aim at city's

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Cities such as Pittsburgh that are working to reinvigorate themselves must not only promote their accomplishments but "confront what is bad," such as childhood poverty in the black community, the chief of the National Urban League said Saturday at a conference Downtown.

Marc H. Morial, who became president and CEO of the Urban League during a visit here 10 years ago, returned to Pittsburgh to address the local affiliate's annual State of Black Pittsburgh Conference.

Mr. Morial, who is credited with lowering crime rates and unemployment as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002, took aim at the unusually high poverty rate among Pittsburgh's black children.

He challenged Pittsburghers to "confront this and say as a community, 'We're going to move the needle on this issue.' "

In a May story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Harold D. Miller, president of Future Strategies LLC and adjunct professor of public policy and management at Carnegie Mellon University, said census data for 2011 indicated that the Pittsburgh area had the nation's third-highest poverty rate among working-age black residents and the sixth-highest poverty rate among black children.

Mr. Morial said a new generation of activists must build on the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, black and white, of the 1960s. As head of the Urban League, he has made the narrowing of economic gaps a key focus of today's civil rights agenda.

On Saturday, he stressed the related goals of better educating youth and expanding employment opportunities. "Emphasizing education is more than emphasizing it in rhetoric," he said, criticizing officials who say they support education even as they lay off teachers, cut arts programs and eliminate after-school programs.

Mr. Morial praised Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, with running one of the most vibrant affiliates in the nation. In her own address, marking the local organization's 95th anniversary, Ms. Bush called on members to rededicate themselves to the goals of economic sufficiency, parity, power and civil rights.

She said an incident in Homewood in June, in which a city police officer was accused of needlessly accosting a teacher and freelance photographer, underscored the work still to be done. "We need to look at police-community relations," she said.

The audience of hundreds, which included ninth-graders from some of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, was encouraged to take a personal interest in the civil-rights movement. Speakers said young people could join the Urban League Young Professionals or take a stand on injustice as what Richard Morris, the Urban League of Pittsburgh's housing director, called "everyday heroes."


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com.

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