The leadership group was assembled by Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League; Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network; Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Morial was quick to say that the meeting did not represent the formation of another group, but a collaborative effort to send a clear message to the White House during President Obama’s second term.
More than three dozen leaders attended, including National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Chairman Cloves Campbell, Southern Christian Leadership President Charles Steele and grassroots activist Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.
“We seek not to create a new organization, we seek to turn a corner towards a direction of being collective and proactive in the pursuit of the challenges our nation faces, said Morial.
Many of those challenges such as unemployment, poverty and health care disparities are far greater among Blacks, a group that supported Obama with 93 percent of their votes in November.
In a joint statement following the meeting, the group wrote:
“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we must have a seat at the table to fully leverage the talents, intellectual capital and contributions of our leaders to craft a domestic agenda that brings African-Americans closer to parity and equality, and fulfills the promises of these milestones.”
Morial summarized five priorities that would be fleshed out in the new agenda:
• Achieve economic parity for African-Americans
• Promote equity in educational opportunity
• Protect and defend voting rights.
• Promote a healthier nation by eliminating healthcare disparities
• Achieve comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system
“This is a first step towards developing a public policy agenda and we pledge to cooperate and work together with clearly defined objectives,” said Morial.
NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton agreed.
“It was important that we had this kind of conversation to begin utilizing our resources and coordinating even better and moving these initiatives forward through each of our own disciplines,” he said.
Morial said that the lesson to be learned is that we have to be proactive.
“We can’t wait and sit back and expect any elected official to write an agenda,” Morial added. “We have to do it.”
Sharpton echoed that sentiment.
“We can not ask the president to write an agenda for us to himself,” explained Sharpton. “We need to take this from rhetoric to results from people saying we need an agenda to trying to sit down and collectively come up with one, from just complaining to convening and going forward.”
As a nation watched gay and Latino groups pressure President Obama to take definitive action on issues affecting their communities, critics of Black leaders have suggested that they didn’t complain enough during Obama’s first term.
Gay rights groups heckled President Obama during fundraising events and speeches. Latino leaders organized sit-ins near the White House in opposition to the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
In 2011, President Obama worked to repeal the Clinton era “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on gay’s serving openly in the military, and in 2012 Obama became the first sitting president to support gay marriage.
And while the DREAM Act, legislation geared towards immigration reform, stalled in Congress, President Obama announced in 2012 that his administration would stop deporting young undocumented immigrants.
When CNN contributor and host of TV ONE’s “Washington Watch” Roland Martin pressed Morial on how far the leaders were willing to go to ensure that the White House addressed their agenda and if they were willing to take “external action” similar to what the civil rights leaders took 50 years ago, the NUL leader refused to go into the details.
“We are not going to let anyone peep our cards today in terms of what we are going to do,” said Morial.
He said that the group of leaders will reconvene and plans to present the Black agenda to President Obama and every member of Congress early next year.
Morial said, “We have to understand that the president works for us.”