The New Rights Agenda

The Urban League is the latest to take aim at removing economic barriers from the pursuit of the American Dream

a venture capital fund, while the Albany, New York, affiliate operates an incubator for emerging businesses and helps them access services and capital.

The Los Angeles affiliate demonstrates the Urban League’s mission to be at the intersection of society, helping “people in the street” as well as the middle class. On one end, the affiliate oversees an automotive training center with partners Pep Boys Inc., the Los Angeles County Private Industry Council and Toyota Motor Sales, USA. The customized program has trained and placed nearly 500 minorities in local jobs ranging from auto maintenance to customer service.

On the other end of the scale, Nissan Motor Corp., U.S.A. has retained the LA Urban League (for a cool $250,000) to bring to the table interested African American candidates capable of purchasing multiple Nissan dealerships. Carlton Jenkins, CEO of Founders National Bank of Los Angeles (No. 14 on the BE FINANCIAL 25 list), has agreed to help candidates with financing, and Nissan has also committed to help put financial packages together.

The Greater Cleveland Urban League (along with the national office) focused its first National Economic Development Conference on franchising. More than 30 franchisers, financial institutions and legal advisors were on hand during the last week in May to show nearly 1,000 attendees how to get started. In exchange, national franchisers who participated, including McDonald’s, Marriott, Pepsico and The Athlete’s Foot, walked away with names of hundreds of solid candidates to work with.

In Trenton, New Jersey, the affiliate there builds houses and then sells them for nearly half the cost of construction, granting low-interest HUD loans to people who otherwise couldn’t afford a home.
New Orleans CEO Clarence Barney, now retired, recently demonstrated yet another role for the Urban League to play–dealing as power brokers to help support community redevelopment and entrepreneurial development. “Black people need someone working with local government and the five percenters (top influential business and civic leaders) to help bring about economic power, particularly in terms of inner city agendas,” says Barney.

When plans were announced two years ago to construct a new $350 million convention center project, Barney lobbied tirelessly for a fair share of subcontracts to be awarded to black-owned construction companies. After several unsuccessful rounds with the lead contractor, Barney pulled in the National Urban League and other groups who organized a boycott and a picket line, which resulted in more than $37 million being awarded to minority subcontractors since last year.

When the $88 million Super Dome project came up earlier this year, Barney decided to try offering incentives instead of threats. He offered a 1% discount on the lead contractor’s standard retainer fee for every $5 million in business awarded to black subcontractors, giving no timetables or goals. While Barney isn’t entirely happy with the open- ended nature of the compromise, the incentive approach is proving to be almost as effective as the demands for fairness employed earlier.

Indeed, while tactics may–many would say must–change, the push for economic parity and equal opportunity remains the bottom line objective of

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