As we say goodbye to 2009, one thing is clear: The first ten years of the 21st century have been as tumultuous and noteworthy as any in American history. The decade began with a Presidential election in which the man with the most votes lost, and the horror of 9-11, when nearly 3000 people died in the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. The decade ends with the first African American in the Oval Office, the first Latina on the Supreme Court and the nation in the grips of a Great Recession even as Congress nears a final vote on historic health care reform. And while the goal of "Peace on Earth," remains as elusive as ever, we are ending a major war in Iraq, setting the stage for the return of our troops from Afghanistan and celebrating Barack Obama's 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. During the past decade we've experienced an almost equal mix of tragedy and triumph. But as the National Urban League prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010, I share the belief of millions that America's best days are yet to come.
If September 11, 2001 will be remembered as the day of terror in America, August 29, 2005 will forever be known as the day of Katrina. More than 1800 people in the Gulf Coast and my hometown of New Orleans lost their lives in the storm, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and property damage exceeded more than $100 billion. But while the levees failed, the spirit of New Orleans remains unbroken. The city is rebuilding and with any luck, in a few weeks, you will see our New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.
The past decade also included a number of breakthrough achievements by African Americans and women. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 tops the list, but there have been other notable "firsts." In the business world, Dick Parsons, Ken Chenault and Stan O'Neal became the first African American Chairmen and CEOs of Time Warner, American Express and Merrill Lynch respectively. And in May of this year, Ursula Burns became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she took over the reins at Xerox.
In politics, Colin Powell was appointed the first African American Secretary of State in 2001. Deval Patrick became only the second elected African American governor when he took office as Massachusetts' chief executive in 2006. David Paterson was sworn-in as New York's first African American governor in 2008. Nancy Pelosi made history as the first woman Speaker of the House in 2007. And in 2009, Eric Holder became the nation's first African American Attorney General.
During the past decade words like Facebook, YouTube and IPod became a part of our everyday lexicon. But one simple word - Hope -- has defined the American spirit since our beginning, 234 years ago. As we begin the New Year, it is my fervent hope that we will find the courage to build on our successes, meet our many challenges and create an even better tomorrow. Happy New Decade!
Marc Morial is the President & CEO of the National Urban League.