By Marc H. Morial
With the holiday season over and 2008 upon us, it's time to reflect upon the past year and assess our achievements and setbacks in order to start the New Year anew. With the holiday season over and 2008 upon us, it's time to reflect upon the past year and assess our achievements and setbacks in order to start the New Year anew.
Last January, the African American community observed several firsts. Election Day 2006 paved the way for the installation of new congressional leaders, including the first ever African-American chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee – New York Rep. Charles Rangel. Rangel was joined by a handful of other Blacks ascending to leadership, including South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn.
Later in the month, the world of professional football observed two firsts at Super Bowl XVI: Tony Dungy became the first African American to lead his team to victory against Lovie Smith, who beat out Dungy by a few hours in becoming the first Black head coach to get to the Super Bowl in the first place.
That was capped off by the announcement of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to enter the 2008 presidential race – the first Black since Jesse Jackson to be considered a serious contender for his party's nomination. Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun have also run in previous presidential cycles.
In March, the National Urban League unveiled its Homebuyer's Bill of Rights in response to the growing foreclosure problem, which worsened over the year. By December, we were down on Wall Street rallying in favor of something being done. The Bush administration unveiled a plan giving some headed for foreclosure a five-year reprieve on rising interest rates. Just weeks before, the U.S. House passed a "better than nothing" bill to address the fiasco.
In April, the National Urban League unveiled its yearly State of Black America report. Our Equality Index revealed little improvement in the status of Blacks – still seventy-three percent of that of whites. In 2007, the report focused upon the Black male, prescribing ways to bring light to the increasing population of those lost in the system. One recommendation included greater investment in second chance programs. By November, the U.S. House heard our pleas, passing prisoner re-entry legislation.
That month shock jock Don Imus proceeded to make the airwaves a vehicle of racism by disparaging the Rutgers' ladies basketball team, eventually losing his job. But by year's end, he made his way back. Let's just hope he learned his lesson.
In May, the U.S. House passed the first minimum wage hike in over a decade. Enacted in June, the law, a priority for NUL, still fails to index the minimum wage for inflation, something we had championed, but at least gives a much-needed raise to the thousands of hard-working families who struggle to make ends meet.
In June, a jury in Jena, La. found Mychal Bell guilty of aggravated second-degree battery for his alleged role in a racially-charged schoolyard brawl that left a white classmate unconscious. Bell and five other Black youths now known as the Jena Six had been charged with attempted murder, charges which were later reduced. The incident was the culmination of months of racial tension touched off by the hanging of nooses on Jena high school grounds. The case struck a chord with African Americans and civil rights activists across the nation, who descended upon the small town en masse in September to show their support. Following the protest, a wave of noose incidents nationwide occurred.
In July at our annual conference in St. Louis, Mo., we unveiled our Opportunity Compact, a comprehensive set of policy recommendations designed to jumpstart urban America. All four presidential candidates who appeared embraced the compact with gusto. But just how their rhetoric turns into reality will be something we will be interested to see.
At year's end, the U.S. Supreme Court, which had earlier in the