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Orlando Urban League to shuttle blacks to national convention

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by Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel

The 10,000 delegates attending the annual National Urban League Conference in Orlando will get to hear presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, attend a concert by Patti LaBelle, and honor Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and singer Nancy Wilson.

But Metropolitan Orlando Urban League chief executive officer E. Lance McCarthy wants Orlando’s black community to participate in convention activities as well. McCarthy has long lamented the “disconnect” between the local black community and the area’s convention business.

As a result, the local Urban League is sponsoring free bus service from the Florida Citrus Bowl to the Orlando World Center Marriott, where residents can participate in free job counseling and a career fair, attend an international art show and tour exhibits on health, housing and technology.

“If gas is an issue, get to the Citrus Bowl and take the bus. We want the whole city to participate in this convention,” McCarthy said. “This is one way to bridge the divide between the community and I-Drive.”

Employment is part of the Urban League’s Opportunity Compact that forms the foundation for the national convention. The compact also includes youth, housing and entrepreneurship.

Urban League president Marc H. Morial’s speech opening the four-day convention Wednesday will include a progress report on the compact, which serves as a blueprint for the civil-rights organization’s economic and social agenda.

Convention workshops include how to improve the lives of black children, how to recession-proof one’s job, how the foreclosure crisis is affecting black communities, and how black professionals can prosper in corporate America.

The Opportunity Compact applies to local Urban League affiliates as well. In Orlando, the Urban League has programs that deal with high-risk youth, renters and homeowners, job placement and business ownership.

In the past year, the Orlando Urban League worked with more than 1,400 black youngsters, conducted classes for 1,200 potential first-time homeowners, and helped about 360 people with utility, rent and mortgage payments.

David Jackson said the Urban League’s youth programs helped him see a world and a future beyond his neighborhood. When he was a 16-year-old at Jones High, Jackson went from being an indifferent student to a teen with ambitions to attend college because of the Urban League.

“It changed my attitude. That’s what it did for me,” said Jackson, 23, who attends Valencia Community College.

Not all of McCarthy’s Opportunity Compact ambitions have panned out.

Community opposition and the collapsing housing market scuttled his plans to build a 100-unit condo complex on 5 acres next to the Urban League’s Pine Hills headquarters. And no black entrepreneurs from Orlando qualified for the millions made available two years ago in venture-capital funds.

McCarthy also acknowledges falling short of his goal to raise $1.3 million to pay for hosting the national convention.

But he sees the convention, which has never met in Orlando before, as the opportunity to raise the Metropolitan Orlando Urban League’s profile nationally and locally.

“We’ve been known for 30 years as the organization in Pine Hills that pays utility bills and rent,” he said. “We’re much, much more than that.”


One Response

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  1. I love this. Boston would never do such a thing, and if they did no one would know, just so the papers could discuss how no one took advantage of “the bus”. again, love it!


    July 29, 2008 at 8:09 pm

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