Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Urban League Shifts Focus to Economics Advancement for Minorities Called Key to Reviving Our Inner Cities

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Urban League Shifts Focus to Economics Advancement for Minorities Called Key to Reviving Our Inner Cities

Article excerpt

THE NATIONAL Urban League has embraced a shift in emphasis in its civil rights agenda, trying to move beyond the traditional struggle for simple racial equality to a more pragmatic focus on economic concerns.

Urban League President Hugh Price outlined that vision at the organization's annual convention, which ended Wednesday in Washington. He declared that "to share this space we call the United States, we must share the opportunities we call the American Dream."

But in three days of wide-ranging debate and conversation, one theme that emerged as a touchstone was that economic advancement among minorities was tightly bound to the economic revitalization of the nation's cities.

"The cities are the essence, if not the epicenter, of the new American revolution," said former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp.

Middle-class families continue to move from inner-cities to far-flung suburbs. The cities continue to grow poorer, and their minority populations continue to increase.

So, mixed in with the discussions about welfare reform and minority set-asides, at the Urban League convention there was debate about downtown renewal and the reduction in urban crime. The lowest rate of black unemployment in a generation was discussed alongside the increasing obsol escence in today's technology economy of an urban infrastructure built for manufacturing production.

"Cities which were designed just for that manufacturing economy, now have to figure out how they fit into this new high-tech economy," said Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who has said he believes that race "undergirds" all issues related to urban renewal.

"Not since we left the farms for the cities have we gone though as great a transition," Cuomo said. "The economy is changing and the changing economy is then changing everything. In this transition some cities are doing well, some cities are doing less well."

But with some of the nation's urban centers showing signs of revival, there was an overall optimism about cities and the opportunity they offer for greater minority participation in the healthy economy.

"We've got the right stuff to take advantage of a huge opportunity that's unfolding right under our noses," said Price. "There's more juice downtown, in many urban neighborhoods and nearby suburbs. Crime is down, tourism is up. . . . Even long-suffering Detroit is showing signs of life."

Paul Grogan, president of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., said falling crime rates in large cities create a "uniquely hopeful moment" to rebuild those cities.

And the day before he signed the widely celebrated balanced budget bill, President Bill Clinton went before Urban Leaguers to promote the measure as a boon for cities and minorities.

"It is the strongest budget for our cities in over a generation. . . . It will help us to ensure that blighted downtowns of the 20th century will not follow us into the 21st," Clinton said.

Affirmative Action Alternatives?

The Urban League conference was subtitled, "Economic Power - The Next Civil Rights Frontier," and the mood seemed to signal a new phase in the civil rights movement. Much of the energy in the early years of the moveme nt was spent trying to secure opportunities that had been denied black Americans. …

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