2018 Authors/Essays

Michael Neidorff, Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer, Centene Corporation; Board Chair, National Urban League

Twitter: @Centene

As chairman of the National Urban League Board of Trustees, the board and I are pleased to present to you the 2018 edition of the State of Black America®. This year’s theme is “Save Our Cities: Powering The Digital Revolution.”

Kristen E. Broady, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Graduate Studies & Academic Specialization & Full Professor of Business Administration, Kentucky State University

Twitter: @KEBroady 

A 2017 study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that automation could raise productivity growth globally by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually and also suggests that half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055. While this is a promising projection for those focused solely on economic growth, it is a source of fear for Americans who are employed in fields most at risk to automation.  Automation will affect Americans of all races, but it will have a significant impact on African-American and Latino workers. 

Don Cravins Jr.
Senior Vice President for Policy and Executive Director of the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau

Twitter: @DCravins

By the end of 2017, the U.S. economy appeared to be booming. The stock market was at record highs; companies were competing with one another to announce bonuses for employees in response to federal tax cuts; and the unemployment rate dipped to 4.1%, its lowest since 2000. But in minority communities, many of these gains were passing folks by. Blacks are significantly less likely to invest in the stock market, so the bull market charged right past; the wealth gap between whites and Blacks continues to expand despite a seemingly resurgent economy; and the Black unemployment rate (6.8% at the end of 2017) remains several points higher than the overall average.   

Kathryn Finney
Founder & Managing Director, didtechnology/digitalundivided

Twitter: @kathrynfinney 

“Over-mentored, but under-sponsored.”

 –BIG 2018 applicant response to the question “Why are you applying to BIG 2018 Incubator?”

Earlier this year, as I reviewed over 200 applications for our BIG 2018 Incubator, I noticed a theme that I could not ignore. When it comes to their entrepreneurial journey, Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs (BLWE) want more than a periodic coffee chat or email exchange.They are looking for someone to not just tell them to keep knocking on doors, but someone who is willing to take them by the hand, walk them to the doors, show them the keys (and where to find them), unlock the doors, and walk them in.

Patrick Franklin
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Palm Beach

 Facebook Patrick.Franklin.58


The data is clear—and irrefutable. Underrepresented minorities currently make up 30% of our nation’s population (a number projected to reach more than 40% by 2050), but in the STEM field, they are poorly represented with only 12.5% earning STEM degrees in 2011. The demand for qualified STEM professionals is high, but the supply is low. Therefore, it is critical that more people from marginalized communities pursue careers in these fields, but that is easier said than done.

Nancy Flake Johnson
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Greater Atlanta

Twitter:  @ULGATL

In today’s economy, the information technology sector offers the best long-term growth and wealth building opportunity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our economy is expected to add 557,100 new IT jobs between 2016 and 2026, representing a 13% growth—which is faster than the average for all occupations. And, in 2016, the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $82,860—higher than the median annual wage of $37,040 for non-tech jobs.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly
Illinois – 2nd Congressional District

Facebook: @reprobinkelly 

It’s no secret that technology is disrupting, reshaping, driving and altering our lives and economy.

Today, we are more connected than we’ve ever been at any point in history. Ideas and capital flow via a stream of electrons. Everyday tasks are being revolutionized. Technology is boosting productivity.  Working from anywhere is seamless.  And digital wealth is being generated.

George H. Lambert, Jr.
President & Chief Executive Officer, Greater Washington Urban League, Inc.

Twitter: @GWUrbanLeague

Black America’s collective response to emerging technology will determine whether it is an opportunity—or an existential threat.

Erika McConduit, Esq
President and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana

Facebook: @urbanleaguela

As small businesses and startups continue to drive economic growth, the Urban League of Louisiana Women’s Business Resource and Entrepreneurship Center (WBR & EC), as well as our extension, the Contractor’s Resource Center (CRC), continue to provide access to education, capital, and mentorship through a vast array of technical assistance offerings.  As a result of the extensive, one-on-one interactive trainings, long-term professional business advising, and other specialized services clients receive, our program remains one of New Orleans’ most impactful business assistance programs serving the southeast region of our state.

James T. McLawhorn, Jr.
President & Chief Executive Officer, Columbia Urban League, Inc.

Twitter: @colaurbanleague

Black America’s collective response to emerging technology will determine whether it is an opportunity—or an existential threat.


Esther L. Bush
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh

Facebook: @ulpgh 

Homestead Borough, an underpopulated and chronically underserved community located near the city of Pittsburgh, has had its share of hard times. And for many students at Propel Andrew Street High School, whose challenges span the spectrum from poor attendance to failing grades, the road to academic success often feels like a dead end. In response, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh created the Digital Connectors/Project Ready STEAM (DC/PR STEAM) program.

William G. Clark
President & CEO, Urban League of Rochester, NY

Twitter: @UrbanLeagueRoch


During the 20th century, Rochester, New York, relied on big manufacturers like Eastman Kodak and Xerox to drive its economy. Individuals without a post-secondary degree could find well-paying jobs that provided lifelong careers. Those days are long gone. Manufacturing jobs have declined, and the region is investing in STEM-related industries. This transition is fueling demand for workers with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. Workers with STEM skills also have higher earning potentials compared to other industries. However, people of color are underrepresented within STEM fields, putting them at a disadvantage as the economy continues its transformation.

Andrea L. Custis
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of Philadelphia

Twitter: @ULPhilly

This is the story of a 17-year-old young man named Deonte and the life-altering potential of early mediation and mentorship to transform lives.

Deonte is a sophomore at the School of the Future. The high school was a model of innovation and modern design when it was constructed 12 years ago in a developing West Philadelphia neighborhood.  Since opening its doors, this “paperless” school has struggled to boost its graduation rate while meeting the immediate needs of its students, many of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged.  The four-year graduation rate—a key measure of success—is 73 percent. 

Vivian Cox Frasier
President & CEO, Urban League of Essex County

Facebook: @urbanleagueEC


Quantum leaps in technology are creating a world even the most talented science fiction writers could not have envisioned. Driverless cars that can be summoned by smartphones more powerful than the old IBM mainframe computers and digital personal assistants like Siri and Alexa that respond to your every command are no longer figments of the imagination. These modern wonders are the result of the application of human intellectual capital.

Theodia B. Gillespie
President and Chief Executive Officer of the Quad County Urban League

Twitter: @QCUL 

When I began my career in 1984 as the education director for the Aurora Area Urban League (now known as the Quad County Urban League), I was charged with launching Tomorrow's Scientists, Technicians and Managers (TSTM). The program, designed for minority youth, would expose them to science and technology and offer math and science tutoring support to prepare them for careers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians and business leaders.   

Nina Harris
President & Chief Executive Officer, Springfield Urban League

Facebook: Springfield Urban League 

"Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." — Malcolm X

In its most basic sense, civil rights can be defined as the rights of citizens to political and social freedom, and equality. Civil rights afford individuals the opportunity to live freely, unchained from the limits set by discrimination.  Never before has the issue of access to technology played such a critical role in the attainment of civil rights and one's potential to realize the American dream.  In fact, it has become intrinsically connected to the yield of opportunity a student can expect from his or her investment in education.

Wade Henderson
Founding Board Member & Senior Advisor, Center for Responsible Lending

Twitter: @Wade4Justice


Ashley Harrington
Special Assistant to the President; Counsel, Center for Responsible Lending

Twitter: @CRLONLINE 


Once upon a time, higher education loans were valued as “good debt.” Today, these loans, once considered stepping stones on the path to the American Dream, are stripping wealth from individuals and communities and saddling many with long-term financial obligation—and little prospect of repayment.

Erin R. Houston, Ph.D.
President & Chief Executive Officer, Shenango Valley Urban League

Facebook: Shenango Valley Urban League 

In the 21st century, it is common for households to have a computer, sometimes multiple computers. It is also likely that young boys and girls will formally learn how to use a computer during their elementary school years. This early exposure develops their computer skills and affords them an ease with technology that can later be put to practical use as adults.

Jil Littlejon
President & Chief Executive Officer, Urban League of the Upstate, Inc.

Twitter: @JilLittlejohn

 Do Black girls rock? Yes, they do. Do Black girls in the Upstate face systemic barriers that keep their talent from shining through? Yes, they do.

Warren E. Logan, Jr.
President & CEO, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga

Twitter: @ulchattanooga


Chattanooga, Tennessee’s fourth largest city, struggles with the same challenges other urban communities and public schools face across the nation—serious achievement gaps and inequities in education for minority and low-income students. In 2008, the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga responded to these challenges by securing a multi-year state grant to launch the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy, a dynamic after-school and summer academic enrichment program for minority and low-income students attending some of the lowest performing inner-city schools in our community. Our vision was to reduce achievement gaps in science, math, and reading for at-risk students and inspire them to consider pursuing a STEM college and career pathway.


Enrique A. Conterno
Senior Vice President and President, Lilly Diabetes and Lilly USA

Twitter: @LillyPad

Since the breakthrough discovery of insulin in the early 20th Century, diabetes has transformed from a deadly disease to a chronic but manageable condition. Innovations in science – leading to more effective insulins – and technological advances allowing for better monitoring have enabled people living with diabetes to more closely monitor their health.

At Lilly, we are dedicated to developing medicines for unmet needs, particularly for people facing barriers to accessing care and managing their conditions under the traditional in-office care model.

Dr. Wayne J. Riley
President, State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn Downstate Medical Center

Twitter: @DownstateMed

President Barack Obama unveiled a new frontier in medical care with the announcement of an unprecedented commitment of federal resources directed at improving health and effectively treating disease during his January 2014 State of the Union Address. 

The Precision Medicine Initiative sought to quicken the pace of availability of more advanced and effective “patient-centered” medical treatments to patients and their doctors. In the past, biomedical research often resorted to treatments based on the genetic and inherited characteristics of the “average person.”


D. Steve Boland
Head of Consumer Lending
Bank of America

Twitter: @DSteveBoland


Cynthia Brown
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Bank of America

Twitter: @BankofAmerica

One of the most pernicious ironies of the technology boom in America has been that despite its progressive ideals and socially-conscious intentions, not to mention the huge amounts of wealth it has created, the tech sector has underperformed when it comes to advancing the economic and social prospects of communities of color and promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

John Taylor
President & Founder
National Community Reinvestment Coalition

Twitter: @ncrc 

The best way to rise from poverty into the middle class is to acquire a home.  But this has proven to be extremely challenging since the Great Recession of 2008, even for people with good credit and incomes to cover loan payments. For African Americans, home ownership is at a 40-year low.

Historically, mortgage loans for home purchases have contributed immensely to wealth-building for African Americans. Those days, though, are vanishing, and little progress is being made in the fight to protect all Americans from risk and discrimination.

Michael Weinstein
President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation

Instagram: @aidshealthcare

On February 1, 1968, two African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death under their truck’s malfunctioning garbage compactor. Eleven days later, on February 12, their fellow African-American sanitation workers went on strike, calling attention to their low wages and poor working conditions, and catching the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who traveled to Memphis to support the workers and eventually paid for that decision with his life. Dr. King’s support of the sanitation workers of Memphis teaches us that civil rights and economic justice are intrinsically linked. Regardless of the rights we have in law, if we are economically disadvantaged, we are second-class citizens.

Melanie L. Campbell
President & CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable

Twitter: @coalitionbuildr

Black women are making indelible marks in the technology industry as leaders, entrepreneurs and influencers in the nation’s digital economy and are leading advocates for digital justice. From government to business, public interest to grassroots organizing—Black women are making a significant impact in changing the face of tech from a “white-males only club” to one that reflects and embraces the disruptive innovation that diversity and inclusion brings to the industry.   

Kristen Clarke
President & Executive Director
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Twitter: @KristenClarkeJD

As the country remains focused on the ways in which Russia interfered with the integrity of the recent 2016 election, we must not forget to focus equal attention to the ongoing threat of voter suppression.  Voter suppression and ongoing voting discrimination stand as grave threats to American democracy.  Across the country, we are witnessing state and local officials take action to make it harder for African Americans and other minority communities to vote. From restrictive voter ID requirements to purges of the registration rolls, and from racial gerrymandering to the disenfranchisement of people with criminal histories, officials in some states are working hard to restrict access to the franchise for African Americans and other minority communities.  Through community vigilance and impact litigation, we can push back against voter suppression. 

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke
New York – 9th Congressional District

Instagram: @repyvettedclarke 

For the past eleven years, I have had the honor of representing the Ninth Congressional District of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, I represent the very community that raised me. I still live on the same block where I grew up as a child in Central Brooklyn. I go to the same church, frequent the same restaurants, and maintain relationships I’ve had since I was a child.  I have seen the communities in my district transform throughout my lifetime from neighborhood restaurants with a cashier to restaurants adopting mobile devices and Square for payment. With advancements in technology, the notion of a smart community inspires endless possibilities. However, we must make sure that as our communities transform we are not lost in the digital divide.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
Federal Communications Commission (2009-2018)

Twitter: @MClyburnFCC 

While we are living in a fast-paced, digitally-connected, technologically-innovative era, America is on the verge of becoming a more divided nation. Our society is characterized by echo chambers and connectivity cliques where communities of color are, once again, on the wrong side of the opportunities divide. There are, however, rays of hope; and with just a few, intentional steps, we can close many persistent divides with: (1) ubiquitous access to affordable broadband; (2) a free and open internet; and (3) diversity in media.  

David L. Cohen
Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer
Comcast Corporation

Twitter: @comcast

Back in 1968, the digital revolution that now permeates the lives of most Americans was unimaginable.  Today, giving all Americans full access to the benefits of the Internet is an essential part of delivering on Dr. Martin Luther King's still unrealized vision of a "beloved community" founded on economic and social justice.

Rhonda Crichlow
Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer
Charter Communications

The internet is at the core of every aspect of modern society, yet there are a disproportionate number of communities of color who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The internet is the bridge to academic achievement, applying for and excelling in many types of jobs, managing finances and participating fully in the civic life of our nation. For the millions of Americans—especially those living in marginalized communities—who work to provide a brighter future for themselves and their families, lack of access to high-speed internet shouldn’t put success out of reach. But the truth is it does—and we have to change that. 

Vanita Gupta
President & CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights & The Leadership Conference Education Fund


Twitter: @civilrightsorg 

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau undertakes a massive effort to count every person living in the United States. Because African Americans are among the groups of people who have historically been undercounted, and because an undercount can deprive communities of political representation as well as urgently needed resources, achieving a fair and accurate count in the 2020 Census is one of the most important civil rights issues facing Black America. That is why The Leadership Conference Education Fund has been collaborating with a broad network of civil and human rights advocates, policy experts, and service providers to call attention to the importance of the census and to sound an alarm about a potential disaster in the making.

Derrick Johnson
President & CEO, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Twitter: @DerrickNAACP

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been a sustaining voice throughout its 109-year history for justice, equal opportunity, and an end to discrimination.  Many have tried to silence our voice.  Many have failed.  Still, the fight continues. 

Janet Murguía
President & CEO, UnidosUS

Twitter: @JMurguia_Unidos

UnidosUS has been a proud partner of the National Urban League for many years. What unites us is a common goal of equality and justice for all and a common mission of improving opportunities for the communities we represent. Our work together has focused not only on ensuring civil and voting rights and ending discrimination, but also on achieving full economic opportunity for the 48 million African Americans and 58 million Latinos who call this country home.

James Perry, J.D.
President & Chief Executive Officer, Winston-Salem Urban League

Twitter:  @jameshperry

We all have a story to tell. But until recently, only a privileged few had the power and the platform to share people’s stories. They not only decided whose stories were told but how. Today, affordable technology and the rise of social media have democratized the communications landscape—and changed the rules. Today, the people have the power.