Rigged: Racial bias in jury selection

“Illegal and unconstitutional jury selection procedures cast doubt on the integrity of the hole judicial process. They create the appearance of bias in the decision of individual cases, and they increase the risk of actual bias as well.” — Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Peters v. Kiff (1972)

During the Reconstruction Era, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The act guaranteed all citizens, particularly African Americans, equal treatment and access to public accommodations, public transportation and protected their right to serve on juries. This week—140 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875— the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a Georgia death penalty case that serves as an intolerable reminder that people of color continue to be unlawfully excluded from jury service because of their race.

In 1987, Timothy Foster, an African American, was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in the murder of an elderly white woman. Foster, who was 18 years old at the time of the crime, is seeking a new trial on the basis of racial discrimination by the prosecution, who he claims deliberately singled out and purged all prospective black jurors. Coincidentally, Foster’s death sentence came only a year after the Supreme Court had ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that excluding potential jurors based on race was unconstitutional and violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The clear message of Batson v. Kentucky to not exclude jurors based on race failed to police the behavior of prosecutors in Timothy Foster’s case. And Foster’s case is a textbook example of racial discrimination that is often so hard to prove. In this rare instance of well-documented misconduct, prosecutors used a variety of methods to single out and remove potential black jurors. After getting access to the prosecution’s jury selection notes in 2006, Foster’s lawyer found “an arsenal of smoking guns in this case,” including prosecutors highlighting the names of potential black jurors, circling the word “black” on questionnaires, and taking note of black jurors as “B#1” or “B#2.”

Despite the efforts of our federal government and the Supreme Court to address and eliminate racial discrimination in the jury selection process, the practice continues to run rampant, and unchecked, throughout our criminal justice system— a system where more than half of the people on death row are people of color. African Americans make up 42 percent of that number, while they make up only 12 percent of the United States population.

Deliberately excluding people of color from juries only serves to undermine our confidence in the credibility of our nation’s criminal justice system. How can we believe justice is being served if the system is so blatantly rigged? Studies have shown that

diversity makes for a better jury. In comparison to all-white juries, racially diverse

juries are said to take longer to deliberate, they consider a wider variety of perspectives when deciding and make fewer factual errors. We cannot allow our constitutional right to be judged by a jury of our peers to be abused based on a prosecutor’s implicit or explicit racial bias—lives are at stake.

If we are going to effectively address prosecutorial misconduct, there must be real enforcement of rulings like Batson v. Kentucky to prevent the exclusion of jurors based on their race. Along with enforcement, there must be punishment. Right now, prosecutors are not taken to task when racial bias rears its ugly head during jury selection. With enforcement and monitoring, we can discover the patterns and punish the offenders.

Foster’s case has pulled back the curtain on an ugly and unlawful practice that we must remedy if we want a criminal justice system we can believe in.

Fortunately, we are decades past the all-white juries of the Jim Crow era, but we have a long way to go if we are committed to bring justice into our jury pools for all our nation’s citizens.

A message for the class of 2015

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. / It’s had tacks in it, /And splinters, / And boards torn up, / And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare. / But all the time / I’se been a-climbin’ on, / And reachin’ landin’s, / And turnin’ corners, / And sometimes goin’ in the dark / Where there ain’t been no light. / So, boy, don’t you turn back.” – Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son,” 1922


Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League

If you are disposed to using the Internet as your guide, a diploma will generally be described as the proof of your successful completion of a course of study, or the bestowal of an academic degree. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that diploma in your grasp, occupying a prominent space on a wall or waiting to be pressed into your eager hand is so much more than the sum of your years-long efforts to be where you are today. Your degree is a key that opens a new door, a new phase of life and a new set of challenges.

Your life’s journey – and its achievements – does not end here. Celebrate, because you’ve earned it; bask in your well-earned feeling of accomplishment today, because tomorrow you will find that there is much work to be done.

On the other side of that new door is a staircase, and that staircase may not be the kind fashioned from crystal with smooth, reliable, clear-cut steps. Obstacles may slow or impede your climb. There may be tacks, broken floorboards and torn up carpet that would trip, or at worst, defeat someone without the training you have been so fortunate to attain. There is no shortcut here, no elevator, or bypassing of these difficult steps and turns. There is, however, the choice to apply the perseverance and commitment to excellence you have already shown in your higher education journey.

On the one hand, there is much to celebrate in our country when it comes to academic achievement in African-American communities. Today, we enjoy the highest high school graduation rates in history. More students of color are in college and dropout rates are at historic lows.

But the wealth and unemployment gap between Blacks and Whites remains wide. While the Black unemployment rate has finally dipped into the single digits, it stubbornly remains more than twice as high as the jobless rate for Whites. As our country’s economy continues to make steady gains after the debilitating 2008 recession, millions in Black and Brown communities are being left behind. In this country—founded largely on the principle of economic progress through hard work—the American dream of upward mobility remains only a dream for too many of its citizens.

Your education, drive and diploma, may likely shield you from the harsh economic realities experienced throughout communities of color across our nation, but it does not strip you of an obligation to be an actor, rather than a spectator, in our country’s struggle to create one nation with liberty, justice and economic opportunity for all.

No one gets to where they are on his or her own. You have parents, grandparents, friends and family members who invested in your future success, put you on this path and made sure you stayed the course. How will you repay their commitment to you? Whether your ancestors came here by plane, by train, by ship or shackled underneath the hull of a ship; whether the continent they called home was Asia, Europe or Africa, what they did when they reached the shores of our nation, what they sacrificed—all of it is debt incurred. How will you choose to compensate them for their struggles?

Among you are the teachers who will lift the standard of education in poor communities and begin to close the achievement gap; among you are the preachers who will heal the wounds of communities torn apart by violence; among you are the elected officials who will institute laws and policies that promote social and economic fairness for all of America’s citizens. Herein lies the answer. The answer our nation has been searching for is you and your talent, put to a higher purpose.

I cannot promise you that your climb to success in this life will be a crystal stair. You may very well encounter dark corners and obstacles. What I can promise you is that you have been prepared to meet these challenges head on. And more than meet these challenges, you have also been prepared to be an actor in solving so many of the longstanding issues and inequities facing our nation, so “don’t you turn back.”

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

The Educational Equity and Excellence Project

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

All across the country, people are gathering to observe an annual academic rite of passage: graduation. In a scene that will be played out countless times during this season of celebration, family and friends will dutifully take their seats in auditoriums and open fields around the nation and proudly look on as their loved ones walk across stages to receive their diplomas or degrees and, finally, turn the tassel on their graduation caps.


Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League

This tradition holds much more significance than its primary function as the formal recognition of a student’s academic achievement. It is also firmly rooted in our American belief that education, particularly higher education, is the key to greater opportunity and the chance to live the American dream.

The era when a high school diploma was enough to climb the ladder into America’s middle class is long gone. In today’s increasingly high-tech society, it is a college education, or degree, that has become the minimum requirement for that climb up our nation’s social and economic opportunity ladders. Access to college, therefore, cannot remain a privilege afforded to a few when it has become a prerequisite to achieve greater success by the many.

In recognition of this enduring state of academic affairs, the National Urban League is spearheading the “Equity and Excellence Project.” The project—which has six areas of academic focus tightly related to our organization’s mission, including common core standards and improved access to high-quality curricula and effective teachers—has also made college attainment, and most importantly, completion one of its priorities.

The higher education initiative of the “Equity and Excellence” project is currently being run at three National Urban League affiliates: The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, The Urban League of Springfield and the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County. In those communities, communities that mirror so many Black and Brown communities in our country, national and local advocacy and engagement efforts are underway to ensure that more of our young people go to college.

Right now, there is much to celebrate in our country when it comes to academic achievement in African-American and Latino communities. Today, we enjoy the highest high school graduation rates in history. More students of color are in college and dropout rates are at historic lows. But more work lies ahead.

Despite the fact that more Blacks and Hispanics are getting a college education than ever before, there is a gap in postsecondary attainment. In 2013, about 15 percent of Hispanics had a bachelor’s degree or higher, degree attainment was at 20 percent for African Americans and 40 percent for Whites, according to recent Pew Research Center analysis.

When a young man or woman is denied access to opportunity through education, we all lose. That potential graduate loses a well-known and well-worn path to individual success. College Board research demonstrated that people with bachelor degrees earned over $21,000 more than high school graduates. People with some college and no postsecondary degree earned 14 percent more than high school graduates who worked full time. When young people are not obtaining postsecondary degrees, our nation suffers from the loss of their talent, their increased tax revenues, their civic engagement and more.

As was often quoted by President John F. Kennedy, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We need to rethink our funding of grants, we need to take a serious look at our student loan system, we—as a nation—need to confront head on all the obstacles to equity in access to quality postsecondary education. The return on our investment of the time, effort and money necessary to increase college attainment and completion, would be a competitive American workforce, a stronger economy and thriving communities.


From Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

— There is perhaps no American civil rights leader who generated as many divergent opinions as Malcolm X. As we near the 50th anniversary of his assassination of February 21,1965, our nation will inevitably scrutinize his life, his work and his lasting impact on our country and our continuous struggle to address racial inequality and its heinous consequences.

Depending on one’s perspective or politics, Malcolm X was a hatemonger filled with a blind, race-based rage or an inspiring figure, pulling himself up from a life of crime to become a leading human rights figure. I would put forth the view that Malcolm X was much more than any one-dimensional interpretation of his life or its seminal moments and that he was a man who literally and figuratively journeyed far in his short 39 years— reinventing himself countless times along the way.

Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 to a Grenadian mother and African American father— also a well-known activist— Malcolm became accustomed to the cruelties of racism at an early age, losing his father in a suspected attack by white supremacists. His early life was a blur of broken homes, petty crime and incarceration. Introduced to the teachings of the Nation of Islam during his time in jail, Malcolm X traded prison for a pursuit of racial justice and equality for blacks in America.

While his initial approach may not have always been championed by or aligned with other civil rights leaders of the time, Malcolm X’s later life transition and his embrace of multiculturalism is an important story to be acknowledged and retold. However, supporters and critics alike often attempt to isolate the “by any means necessary” civil rights leader to one part of his journey. For example, and ironically, many gun advocates invoke Malcolm X’s own words as they seek to reinforce their arguments and support for their professed right to almost unfettered access to firearms.

In his famous “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, Malcolm X said, “I must say this concerning the great controversy over rifles and shotguns. The only thing that I’ve ever said is that in areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.”

However, Malcolm X’s call to bear arms was no call to forego background checks. It was no call to sell guns anonymously on the Internet. It was no call to supply ordinary citizens with military-style weaponry. It was, and remains, a clear-cut indictment of race-based, systemic inequality and violence. He added, “If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job.” The ballot was always the immediate option.

Ten days after that speech, Malcolm X left the United States on April 13, 1964 for a life-altering trip through the Middle East and Africa, including a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the holiest city in Islam. It was during his experience of the pilgrimage that his next transformation would occur. In letters from his trip, he described scenes of unimagined interracial harmony among “tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans.” As he began to see that unity and brotherhood were not impossible realities between “the white and the non-white,” his fight for equality never changed. It only became more inclusive.

In a letter to then Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) President James Farmer, Malcolm, now El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, wrote, “I am still traveling, trying to broaden my mind, for I’ve seen too much of the damage narrow-mindedness can make of things, and when I return home to America, I will devote what energies I have to repairing the damage.”

Unfortunately, Malcolm X’s newfound approach to the pursuit of racial equality was cut short less than a year later under a fatal hail of bullets in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. But rather than end his journey to mend our wounded nation, we can each walk a few steps in his remaining miles to ensure equality and justice for all.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Silicon Valley must embrace diversity

“The industry that bills itself a meritocracy actually looks more like a mirrortocracy.”

— Mitch Kapor, co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Impact

While the number of African American, Latino and women consumers of Internet and broadband products and services is rising, their numbers at the major Silicon Valley companies continue to lag way behind. After years of resisting disclosure, tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Google recently released their employment diversity numbers. As we’ve long suspected, they show a striking lack of inclusion.


Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League

According to published figures, at Google, three percent of the staff is Hispanic and two percent is black. Both Yahoo and Facebook report that Hispanics and blacks make up four percent and two percent of their workplaces, respectively. When Apple makes an announcement, as in its recent introduction of the iPhone 6, it usually wants the world to stand up and take notice. This was likely not the case with the release of its diversity numbers last month, which showed the company is 55 percent white, 15 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic and seven percent black. In his statement upon release of the report, Apple CEO Tim Cook candidly admitted, “I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page.” This acknowledgment is a first step, but the question for Cook and his Silicon Valley counterparts is: What are you going to do about it?

For years, Silicon Valley has used the specious claim of being a “meritocracy” to explain the lack of diversity in its ranks. It has never been true that African Americans, Latinos or women are somehow less able to excel at high tech jobs. It is true that communities of color and women continue to be underrepresented in the attainment of science and engineering degrees. The National Urban League is working to increase those numbers with efforts such as Project Ready STEM, which is supporting 10 Project Ready STEM sites across the nation. The sites are successfully operating STEM programs for nearly 300 middle or high school students, with the goals of ensuring that urban students have the necessary supports and opportunities available to them to succeed in STEM-related class work and exposing students to STEM-related careers.

However, as Freda Kapor Klein, co-chair of the Kapor Center for Social Impact explains, “The reality is that most of the barriers are structural…our sector is permeated by biases, both subtle and not so subtle.” Her co-chair and husband, Mitch Kapor, the designer of Lotus 1-2-3, adds, “Even as companies scramble to find workers in the most competitive hiring market in recent memory, most are continuing to bring aboard people who look like they do.”

It is not enough to lament the numbers; Silicon Valley must be more intentional about increasing diversity. The industry would do well to follow the example of some of the large telecom companies, which have taken proactive measures in recent years to increase diversity within their organizations. For example, AT&T’s Workforce Inclusion website states, “We know that diverse, talented and dedicated individuals are critical to our success, so we look for people from various backgrounds and give them opportunities to grow…we serve our customers better when we build diversity into all we do.”

Verizon has also made great strides in both employee and supplier diversity. According to Verizon Chairman and CEO, Lowell McAdam, “A diverse workplace is one of Verizon’s biggest strengths as a global innovation leader. Our employees’ unique backgrounds and perspectives are key to our success in delivering technology solutions that create value for our customers, shareholders and society.”

Silicon Valley companies must not only make similar statements, they must make similar commitments. They can begin by developing comprehensive diversity plans to cover hiring, procurement, governance and philanthropy. As major consumers of technology, people of color and women should also have a fair share of the jobs and wealth that Silicon Valley generates.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Unfinished Business: 50 Years After the Civil Rights Act of 1964

“The purpose of the law is simple…those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, July 2, 1964

July 2 marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination and segregation based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. First introduced by President John F. Kennedy shortly before his 1963 assassination, the Civil Rights Act also offered greater protections for the right to vote and paved the way for another historic achievement one year later— the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Momentum for the legislation picked up following the 1963 March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young, along with 250,000 activists and citizens, gathered to demand “Jobs and Freedom” for people of all races who were locked out, left out, and disenfranchised.

President Kennedy, a Massachusetts liberal, introduced the bill in June of 1963, just five months before his assassination. It was up to his appointed successor, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, a former United States Senator from Texas with deep southern roots, to carry it over the finish line. Despite extreme opposition, especially from his former southern Congressional allies, President Johnson successfully navigated the bill’s passage. He signed it into law surrounded by Dr. King, Whitney Young and a multi-racial group of civil rights activists.

It was only 50 years ago that it was legal in some states to deny Blacks the right to eat in the same restaurants as whites, to sit in the same movie theaters or even to apply for the same jobs. Thankfully, that is no longer true anywhere in America. We have also seen other gains, including a rising Black middle class and an increase in African American high school graduation rates. However, there is still a wide opportunity gap in America.

According to a recent USA Today article, “In almost every economic category, blacks have been gaining, but not by enough. Median family income (in inflation-adjusted dollars) is up from $22,000 in 1963 to more than $40,000 today, still just two-thirds of the median for all Americans. Black unemployment remains twice the level of white unemployment, similar to where it was in 1972. The black poverty rate has dropped from more than 40 percent in the 1960s to about 27 percent today; child poverty similarly has dipped from 67 percent to about 40 percent. Those numbers still are glaring, however. And the gap in overall wealth is more than five-to-one between whites and blacks…”

Perhaps the most visible demonstration of the progress we have made over the past 50 years is the 2008 election and the 2012 reelection of Barack Obama as America’s first Black president. But even that achievement has been met with a backlash as right wing voter suppression efforts have risen since President Obama first took office and the United States Supreme Court essentially gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 last year. Obviously, 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, our work is not yet done.

As we noted last week in our statement in support of the Voting Rights Amendment Act now before Congress, “The National Urban League believes there is no better and fitting tribute to the men and women who 50 years ago fought for and died to secure a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act than to pass the VRAA this year before the November mid-term elections. We cannot focus only on a celebration of progress. We must also ensure there is a continuation of the very equality and opportunity that are at the core of this country’s democratic values.”

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Urban League Joins “Party with a Purpose”

— July 3-6 is the date. New Orleans is the place. Empowerment is the purpose. Iconic thought leaders and musicians bring the message. For the 20th year in a row, Essence magazine is organizing the largest annual gathering of African American music, culture and inspiration in the nation. Thousands of families across the country have marked their calendars and are making final plans for the Essence Festival.

As then-mayor of New Orleans, I served as founding mayor of the Essence Festival and was there when it began in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine. I am thrilled to see it blossom into more than any of us ever imagined— the largest, most exciting and purposeful gathering of African-Americans anywhere in the United States.

The partnership of the Essence Festival and the city of New Orleans was ideal from the start. Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications, explains, “New Orleans has been just a tremendous home for the Essence Festival. There’s not a better place. Louisiana’s famous for festivals. We believe there is a symbiotic relationship that we have here.” The Festival has also been good for New Orleans. Last year, more than 540,000 people come to New Orleans for the Essence Festival with an estimated $100 million impact. According to Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, “This has become sort of our kingpin, milestone event for the summer months.”

The Essence Festival has played a significant role in the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans and brings much more than music to the city. For example, in addition to the Festival’s significant economic contribution, in 1995 Essence and the City of New Orleans co-founded the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, which exposes emerging jazz artists from all over the world to master jazz artists in New Orleans. Today, it is a continuing, self-sustaining organization that is making a tremendous community impact.

This year, on Sunday, July 6, 2014, the Festival will hold its second “A Mother’s Prayer Vigil,” a gathering of mothers and grandmothers who come together to grieve and honor the children they raised whose lives were tragically cut short by gun violence.

The Essence Empowerment Experience, featuring some of the most influential thought-leaders in America, has also become a highpoint of the Festival. It offers free workshops, lectures and seminars at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center designed to “give you the tools to better your world.” I am proud to join such luminaries as Alicia Keys; Congresswoman Maxine Waters; Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Rev. Al Sharpton; and Bishop T.D. Jakes as part of this year’s Empowerment Experience. The National Urban League, in partnership with leading healthcare services provider HCA, is also running the Essence Festival Empower U Zone for Career Connections. This is the ultimate networking lounge where attendees can meet industry leaders, network with entrepreneurs, get career advancement tips and attend recruitment sessions with some of the top companies in the country. Special presenters include Lisa Nichols, CEO of Motivating the Masses, along with certified life coach, Dee Marshall. If all of that is not enough to get your attention, the musical line-up this year includes Prince; Mary J. Blige; Jill Scott; Erykah Badu; Lionel Richie; and many other premier performers.

When the Essence Music Festival began in 1995, city officials did not fully understand the economic potential of the black consumer, which now has a combined buying power approaching $1.1 trillion. Twenty years later, the annual “Party with a Purpose” has become one of the major tourist attractions and economic infusions in New Orleans and one of the nation’s largest summer festivals. Hope to see you there.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Class of 2013: Courage, Choice and Compassion

“Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are…for all the land that you see I will give to you.” —Genesis 13: 14-15

University commencement season is a time of high hopes and great celebration. I was again reminded of that when I delivered the commencement address at Huston-Tillotson (HT) University in Austin, Texas. This coming weekend, I will also speak during graduation ceremonies at Tuskegee University and Alcorn State.

Perhaps best known as the university where Jackie Robinson served as athletic director and basketball coach before he set out to break the color barrier in baseball, Huston-Tillotson is the oldest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) west of the Mississippi. For 137 years, it has opened doors of educational opportunity that might have otherwise been closed to many African American students. The enthusiasm and optimism I saw in the faces of this year’s HT graduates— and that I expect to see at Tuskegee and Alcorn— reaffirmed my belief that the future is indeed in good hands.

My message to the graduates was simply to make sure that in addition to emerging from college academically prepared, they should also embrace their obligation to pave the way for the next generation and leave this world better than they found it. I am all too aware that this is easier said than done. So, I also shared three key observations, or better yet life lessons, to help them navigate this next phase of their journey. I call them the three Cs: courage, choice and compassion.

The class of 2013 is graduating at a pivotal moment in American history. Fifty years ago, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his passionate dream that America live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. That same year, four little black girls were killed by a terrorist bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, and civil rights hero Medgar Evers was assassinated in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. Now 50 years later, we have witnessed the second inauguration of the nation’s first black president. As I told the HT graduates we’ve come a long way baby, but we still have a long way to go.

While many of the legal impediments to equal opportunity have been eliminated over the past half-century, new challenges including voter suppression, criminal justice abuses, economic inequality and opposition to common sense gun safety legislation, have risen to take their place. All of these problems will require this generation of graduates to muster the kind of courage shown by people like Jackie Robinson, Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and National Urban Leaguer Heman Sweatt, who fought the battle to integrate the University of Texas in 1950. They each found the courage and made the choice to devote themselves to a cause greater than themselves. They each demonstrated the kind of compassion required to act beyond individual interests and clear obstacle-laden paths so that those who followed could have better opportunities. The baton is now passing to a new generation, and I have no doubt they will rise to the challenge.

The National Urban League has always engaged young people in our empowerment movement. For more than 40 years, our Black Executive Exchange Program (BEEP) has been cultivating new leaders and inspiring achievement by enabling African American students to interface and network with African American business professionals to prepare for careers in corporate America. In addition, the National Urban League Young Professionals (NULYP) engages young professionals ages 21-40 in voluntarism and philanthropy to empower their communities and change lives.

Many of today’s HBCU graduates have been touched by those and similar efforts. We expect that they will use the blueprint of courage, choice and compassion summoned and shown by so many before them. We expect that they will pass it on and choose to serve.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.