Nat. Urban League kicks off conference

July 29, 2009 (CHICAGO) In conjunction with the conference, the Chicago chapter of the Urban League presented a civil rights program called 'Road to Freedom' on Wednesday.

The conference will begin with a state of the Urban League address at Apostolic church in which the president and C.E.O. is expected to say that a lot has been accomplished in the past 99 years of the organization's history but there's still a lot to be done.

The 99-year journey of the Urban League has taken the organization through the turbulent years of the civil rights era.

On Wednesday, those at the forefront of the movement shared their experiences during a forum at the DuSable Museum.

Hank Thomas was a freedom rider and nearly lost his life fighting for equal rights.

"They set the bus afire. The mob outside tried to hold the door to keep us from getting out as the bus was burning," said Thomas.

The Urban League says years later the fight for equality is not over. The organization is focusing on economic empowerment in the African-American community. According to National Urban League president Marc Morial, it's the reason his organization and other civil rights groups like the NAACP are still relevant a century after they were founded.

"Our work is a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Our work is economic self-sufficiency. Our work goes on. We're needed now more than ever," said Morial.

The National Urban League has brought its annual convention to Chicago for the first time in 30 years, a city in the spotlight after the election of Pres. Barack Obama. There's also the high profile of Cheryle Jackson, the Chicago Urban League president and possible U.S. Senate candidate.

When you look at the lack of parity in schools, the inequality of education, all these statistics, incarceration rates, it suggests there is still something very wrong and troubling about our society," said Jackson.

The theme of the convention is called Path to Power.

"We speak for education, for health, for equal opportunity in employment. So we certainly do have a place," said Dolores Truss, convention attendee.

Community activists and politicians will be speaking over the next few days. Governor Pat Quinn will be Wednesday night's kickoff address and Friday morning Vice President Joe Biden will address the conference.

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