Urban League conference begins in Philadelphia

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At a time when economic and civil rights issues are at the forefront in the news, the National Urban League will hold its annual conference in Philadelphia, marking key anniversaries in African-American history.

The theme of the group's conference, which runs today through Saturday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, is "Redeem the Dream: Jobs Rebuild America."

The event marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, at which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech, and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Patricia A. Coulter, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Urban League, said much of the focus of the conference, which is expected to draw more than 3,000 people, is on jobs and economic growth.

She noted that the formal name of the 1963 march was "The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."

"Since the March on Washington in 1963, and especially on the education front, we have made numerous gains. ... When we look at the economic side of the equation, the gains are not as significant," Ms. Coulter said.

"So we have to stay vigilant on the push for jobs in America and especially jobs in the urban cores where you have so many African Americans and people of color," Ms. Coulter said.

A job fair, with about 65 employers, will be held daily beginning Thursday at the conference.

In addition to jobs, the conference will focus on current issues, such as voting rights, affirmative action, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the slaying of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

On Thursday morning, the group will host an Emergency Town Hall Meeting on those issues with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and a panel discussion with MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris-Perry and others.

In addition to the organization's president, Marc H. Morial, speakers include U.S. Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.; the Rev. Al Sharpton; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and filmmaker Ryan Coogler, Ms. Coulter said.

There will also be a youth summit at Temple University, she said. Most of the events are free and open to the public. Some require registration. A schedule of events can be found at www.nul.org.

The National Urban League is a civil rights organization founded in 1910, dedicated to economic empowerment in historically underserved urban communities. The organization has 95 affiliates in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

One of the highlights of the conference will be the formal unveiling of a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation at the National Constitution Center. It will be displayed through mid-September.

The proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln ordered the end of slavery in 1863 and paved the way for the 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery in 1865.

The document had been part of the Lincoln Financial Group's collection of artifacts connected to Lincoln. In 2008, the company donated its copy to the Indiana State Museum.

Allison Green, chief diversity officer for Lincoln Financial Group, said the company was proud to partner with the National Urban League on the display.

"With this anniversary, we, as a company, feel like it represented a unique opportunity to celebrate Lincoln's legacy of equality and opportunity," Ms. Green said. "And what better time to bring it to Philadelphia now with the Urban League and their theme of 'Redeem the Dream?'"

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