This year, Black History Month coincides with a historic milestone of the National Urban League: our 100th anniversary. Fittingly, this year's theme, "The History of Black Economic Empowerment," tracks the organization's century-long mission.
The National Urban League was founded in 1910 to address the needs of African Americans migrating north from the Jim Crow South in search of jobs and a better life. Unfortunately, one hundred years later, the doors of opportunity are not yet fully opened to people of color. And history remains one of our greatest teachers. As President Obama said in his historic 2008 speech on race, "…So many of the disparities that exist in the African American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow…That legacy helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persist in so many of today's urban and rural communities."
But in spite of tremendous odds, African Americans have made remarkable contributions to America and continue to embrace Dr. King's dream. Highlighting those largely unheralded contributions has always been the purpose of Black History Month.
While our centennial year is also a time to reflect on the rich history and legacy of the National Urban League, these times call for action. We want to use this moment to rally the American people to join with us in tackling some of the most pressing and persistent problems facing our nation. To that end, we have chosen Black History Month to announce the launch of our national public service initiative, I AM EMPOWERED, which will officially kick-off on March 1. Focused on four aspirational goals for America in the areas of education, employment, housing and healthcare, I AM EMPOWERED will galvanize millions of people to take a pledge to help achieve the following by 2025:
· Education - Every American child is ready for college, work and life.
· Jobs - Every American has access to jobs with a living wage and good benefits.
· Housing - Every American lives in safe, decent, affordable and energy efficient housing on fair terms.
· Healthcare - Every American has access to quality and affordable health care solutions
Black History Month 2010 also marks one year that America's first African American president has been in office. President Obama's election and the I AM EMPOWERED initiative remind us of the power of individual and collective citizen action to bring about change. We will announce further details of the campaign in the coming weeks, including a website where you can pledge to work with us to achieve our four empowerment goals.
As we start our celebration of Black History Month and the 100th anniversary of the National Urban League, I urge every American to claim your empowerment and become a part of this exciting movement for change.
Marc Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.