Last night, for the first time, the National Urban League brought the issues of the annual report to television, partnering with TVOne on the National Urban League Presents: State of Black America Town Hall, so that “the conversation to a much wider audience and be the catalyst for a national conversation on issues of racial and economic justice,” according to NUL CEO Marc Morial.
Hosted by TVOne host Roland Martin, the two-hour special featured some of the nation’s greatest thought leaders. The conversation was spirited but never contentious, and the Urban League made sure that those African Americans “from both sides of the aisle” were part of the critical dialogue. The hashtag #StateofBlackAmerica was trending on Twitter last night, as many across the country participated in the discussion.
Some interesting facts came out during the various segments including the fact that during the Great Depression, more African Americans owned their homes than they do today. Also that it would take two generations for African Americans to make up just what was lost during the years when the housing market collapsed. Yet, there was not just a rehashing of issues but some innovative suggestions and solutions as well.
The panel discussions were interspersed with vignettes of Urban League affiliates showing off the real work that they do, and success achieved, in various communities across the country including Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and New Orleans, presenting affordable housing solutions; working with young people to prepare them for college; work readiness after incarceration, and business mentorship.
The first segment with the panelists was on education,a contentious issue in the African American community for some time, and featured Angela Sailor, senior advisor, The Gloucester Institute; Touré, culture critic and journalist; Symone Sanders, former national press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and journalist Jeff Johnson.
Johnson received the first applause of the night when he noted, “We keep losing out with both sides of the aisle dictating how we talk about choice,” and stressed that Black people needed to really be in on policy decisions or at the very least work with those stakeholders if we want to make a substantive difference in our schools.
There was also talk of the need to alleviate some of the burden of students loans, which are disproportionately higher for African American students; and the need to start re-evaluating college as the end all be all when it comes to being able to make a good life for oneself.
“When all of the options are bad, it doesn’t matter if they have choices. And what we have is that the public schools,” noted Touré. “As long as we have segregation and entrenched poverty in the black community, then we will never have public schools that are powerful. So either we need to unlock the wealth gap or we need to change the way we fund public schooling in America.”
The author and pundit summarized that all issues are intertwined—housing, eduction, criminal justice, etc. and we must attack them all – most notably the wealth gap—if we are to make any progress.
The next segments were around housing and employment and Sailor was joined by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University professor and author; Angela Rye, political commentator and analyst; and Paris Dennard, GOP commentator. All of the panelists agreed that there was a critical need for critical need for affordable housing, especially in rapidly gentrifiying areas of the country, historically inhabited by African Americans.
Martin noted that most of Black wealth is in our homes, and so the housing crisis of 2008 really adversely impacted our community, not only in housing but in business, because if we have less collateral, then we are not able to start viable small businesses, which tend to employ African Americans.
To make it plain, Dennard noted, “No home, no loan, no business.”
Angela Rye was very clear when she stressed that we must support our own businesses, and called on everyone to at least “bank black.” Angela Sailor noted, that “we have to get to a place where we’re passing on a legacy.” “We have to train our children to think a little bit differently than I was taught,” in terms of saving and investing, she said.
The National Urban League Presents: State of Black America Town Hall was an important check in on the African-American community, in all of its complexities. Check out what the internets had to say about this important discourse: