As chairman of the board of the National Urban League, the board and I are pleased to present to you the 40th anniversary publication of the State of Black America®. This year’s theme is Locked Out: Education, Jobs & Justice.
The work we do as the National Urban League focuses on securing economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights for African Americans in communities across the country. Economic indicators and experts agree that our country continues to make progress since the Great Recession, but for many African Americans and others in urban and low-income communities, wide gaps of inequality in income, housing and education remain. American communities and cities continue to need bi-partisan solutions to persistent and emerging problems, especially in the areas of jobs, education and social justice.
These are our shared challenges, and our shared opportunities.
The National Urban League continues to be a trusted resource, responsible activist and leader in creating pathways to success. I believe there is no organization better positioned to bridge the gap from where we are today to where we want to be in the future. But the Urban League cannot do it alone. To overcome the type of challenges highlighted in this report, we all must accept the responsibility to act. We each have a role to play — every individual, every city, every country and every business.
Through innovation, investment and creativity, businesses have the opportunity to contribute to the resolution of social and economic disparities. Businesses are particularly well suited to facilitate transformative partnerships between the public, private and social sectors and be a catalyst for positive social change. For example:
The world watched as events in Ferguson, Missouri highlighted the economic, educational and social justice struggles going on around our country. At the time, Centene Corporation, headquartered in St. Louis, was contemplating the location of a new claims center. Ferguson did not meet the criteria of the size and scope needed for this type of operation; however, the company saw an opportunity to lead a transformation of a vital community. By working with community leaders, government officials, women and minority businesses and others, Centene invested more than $25 million to build a center that provides hundreds of jobs with benefits, an education center, internship programs in partnership with local high schools, and an early childhood development center.
Centene also supported Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, with the creation of the Community Empowerment Center of Ferguson. This former QuikTrip location, which had been destroyed during the city’s 2015 unrest, is now being developed into a resource for the community. This new center houses the Affiliate’s Save Our Sons workforce and job training program and serves up to 500 African-American and other young men in the area.
These are just two examples of the transformation that can take place across the country… one business at a time, one community at a time. The business sector must take the lead in creating stronger, more economically viable and healthier communities across this nation.
I invite each of you to use this 40th anniversary edition of the State of Black America and the recommendations found throughout as a catalyst to build thoughtful solutions in support of your communities.