By Reza Corinne Clifton
The National Urban League’s Legislative Policy Conference is held every Spring in Washington, D.C. The dates for the 2007 conference were April 17-20. This article appeared in the May 17 – May 31 (2007) edition of The Providence American newspaper.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – African American men are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white males and make only 75 percent as much a year. They’re nearly seven times more likely to be incarcerated, and their average jail sentences are 10 months longer than those of white men.
These are some of the sobering facts nestled within The State of Black America 2007, an official publication of the National Urban League (NUL) published annually to provide a “barometer of conditions of the African-American community in the United States.” These and other revealing statistics also served as the backdrop for one of the organization’s conferences in Washington, D.C. – the Fourth Annual Legislative Policy Conference (LPC), NUL on the Hill – attended by more than 50 Urban League affiliates from places like Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, New Mexico, and Florida, April 17-20.
RI’s delegation included Urban League of RI (ULRI) board chairman, Norman Orodenker and his wife; ULRI President and CEO, Dennis Langley; National Council of Urban League Guild members RI chapter president, Jean Edmundson, Eastern Regional Coordinator, Lynette Lopes, and National Treasurer Lorraine Adams; and me, former ULRI Community Development Specialist and (current) RI Young Professionals Vice President, Reza Clifton.
The three-day event began on April 17 with a press conference to announce and discuss this year’s SOBA report – Portrait of the Black Male – and followed with panel discussions, House and Senate leadership briefings, Congressional service recognitions, and other activities right on Capitol Hill. But the most powerful impact of NUL on the Hill was the fact that each delegation met with their respective national legislators to discuss the same pressing matters outlined in the SOBA report and dealt with by every Urban League chapter. Remember, with more than 50 delegations in attendance, there were a number of states represented, and, therefore, a number of legislators addressed.
Topics discussed with, for RI’s delegation, Senator Jack Reed, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse – a former Urban League of RI board member – Congressman Jim Langevin and Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s staff, represented a number of areas of major concern locally and nationally. With statistics from the (national) SOBA Report citing significant unemployment disparities between not only Black and White adults, but teens as well – twelve percentage points – solutions discussed pertained to funding the Workforce Investment Act and making the Boards that enforce the Workforce Investment law more racially inclusive; goals would be providing more money for employment training programs for adults and youth, and more accurately serving those actually and chronically unemployed.
Housing was another significant area of concern among delegates, highlighted by statistics showing a slip in African-American homeownership, after a historic high as recently as 2004. In response delegations requested an expansion of the Housing Counseling portion of the 2008 Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) budget. But proposed solutions did not stop there; could not stop there with the reality that disparate homeownership slippages were in part due to increased foreclosures.
Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures due to risky, adjustable-rate mortgages, subprime loans, and predatory, unscrupulous lenders are on the rise, according to various predictions, for the remainder of this year and next, disproportionately impacting people with tarnished credit or low incomes – often people of color. Locally, reported the Providence Journal (April 24, 2007, business section, “Foreclosures soar in RI”), RI’s foreclosure rate last year was reportedly the highest in New England, a state where in comparison to the 64.5 percent state average, homeownership for African-Americans is about 35 percent. Given the current and forecasted climate, then, the second housing-related solution for which Urban League members lobbied their legislators was for the enactment of Anti-Predatory Lending Legislation to, in part, provide access to justice for families caught in abusive loans.
How else can we protect the basic protections? By working individually and collectively to create and restore policies that provide protection from racial discrimination, high unemployment, and predatory lending. The National Urban League’s Legislative Policy Conference represents one way to work toward these things. Locally, by joining the Urban League of RI, the RI Young Professionals, or the Urban League Guild of RI are other ways. Are you ready to join the fight?
For more information about the National Urban League, its different conferences, and its various publications, visit www.nul.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (212) 558-5300. For more information about the Urban League of RI and RI’s Urban League Guild, visit www.ulri.org or call 401-351-5000. For more information about the RI Young Professionals, visit www.riyp.org, email email@example.com, or call 401-338-7606.
Reza Corinne Clifton is the publisher and editor of www.RezaRitesRi.com, a news, arts and culture website for Rhode Island’s ethnically, artistically, and socially diverse. In the spring of 2007, she received a 2007 RICJ Metcalf Diversity in the Media Award in the category of Technology for the New Millennium. She is also a freelance writer whose work regularly appears in print and online publications throughout RI.