Urban League president speaks at JCC
By KAREN LOZINSKI
With the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, Urban League of Greater New Orleans (ULGNO) president Erika McConduit-Diggs reflected on the slow progress the African-American community has made in recovery.
McConduit-Diggs was the speaker at the monthly Morris Bart, Sr. Memorial Lecture on Monday, July 13 at the Jewish Community Center. Following a catered kosher lunch by local chef Andy Adelman, she delineated the organization’s mission statement—to assist African Americans and other communities seeking equality to pursue economic self-reliance, parity, and civil rights. McConduit-Diggs explained that the ULGNO is one of 95 affiliates of the National Urban League, all of which have the same mission.
The National Urban League is headed by former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial in New York City.
In addition, she was enthusiastic in relating news of ULGNO’s upcoming Rise Katrina 10 Conference, which will take place later this year from August 26 – 28 at the Hyatt Regency. One of the major components of the conference includes the press conference for the release of State of Black New Orleans: 10 Years Post-Katrina, a publication that provides a prospectus on the quality of life of African Americans in the New Orleans area and examines topics such as economics, workforce, health, housing, education, criminal justice, the environment, and civic engagement.
Other key components of Rise Katrina 10 are an education town hall, the ULGNO Annual Gala—a fundraiser that will recognize Katrina heroes, a luncheon featuring media that originally covered Katrina and its aftermath, a youth town hall to which President Obama has been invited to address young people, and city tours of the Ninth Ward, including the Musicians’ Village and the Brad Pitt houses.
McConduit-Diggs addressed critical topics such as demographic shifts in New Orleans, and that though the city still maintains an African-American majority of 59%, almost 100,000 black residents have not returned in the ten years since Katrina.
Median household income has increased slightly for African-America households, but the disparity in the increase of white household income is striking: a less than $2000 jump per year for the former versus one of over $10,000 for the latter. That amounts to an 18% gap increase.
The percentage of African-American children living in poverty in New Orleans since 2013 has grown to 50.5%, up from 44% before the storm. That number is particularly disturbing, she said, when one considers that the black population in the city has decreased by 8%.
Though high school graduation rates are up among black students—56% in 2005 versus 72.7% in 2014, the number of African-American men with four-year college degrees has plummeted. The good news is that more black women now attain bachelor’s degrees, the Urban League president stated. The imperative, she averred, is to even out those percentages.
Other topics covered in McConduit-Diggs talk were incarceration rates (Louisiana ranks number one in the entire world for prison population), quality of life and housing costs, and employment.
Attendees armed with informed perspectives on the matter at hand offered enthusiastic questions and topics of discussion at the conclusion of the lecture, ranging from the disappearing middle class in New Orleans and demographic shifts in the Jewish community, to the importance of workforce training and the value of job creation, citing employment placement programs in post World War II America. Some attendees postulated that people may have opted to not return to New Orleans after displacement by Hurricane Katrina as employment possibilities seemed bleak then as well
Lack of participation at the polls by black residents was discussed also, though McConduit-Diggs pointed out that there is a great deal of political participation on the part of black citizens, and that strides must be made to extend that dedication to election days too.
The Rise Katrina 10 Conference is free and open to the public, though those wishing to attend must register at http://risekatrina10.com