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National Urban League Conference returns to St. Louis this summer

Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.
(Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

The National Urban League Conference will be in St. Louis this summer.

The event will be held July 26-29 at the America’s Center.  

President and CEO Marc Morial said on Friday that St. Louis proved itself back in 2007 when it first hosted the national conference. But he said this year’s conference, with the theme “Save Our Cities,” is coming back in part because of the challenges African-Americans face in St. Louis.

“We’ve come because of the challenges, because we want to shine a light on injustice while at the same time shining a light of people of good will to bring about justice,” Morial said.

He pointed to the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, which plans to open its new Community Empowerment Center in Ferguson on the first day of the conference.

The building is going up on the site of the former burned-out QuikTrip on W. Florissant Ave., a place that became the symbolic following Michael Brown’s death in August 2014.Community Empowerment Center of Ferguson, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis

Community Empowerment Center of Ferguson, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
Credit Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Michael McMillan next to a rendering of the planned Community Empowerment Center in Ferguson in 2016.

“It’ll definitely be a historic moment for us because in 99 years we’ve never built a building and then to build it right there on that site is really turning a tragedy into a triumph,” said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

The 13,000 square foot building will include the League’s Save Our Sons program, as well as offices for the Salvation Army, Provident, Better Family Life, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the University of Missouri-Extension.

Two St. Louis-based corporations, Centene and World Wide Technology, are the title sponsors of the conference. Centene chairman, president and CEO Michael Neidorff is also chairman of the National Urban League’s board. He said the local chapter has been instrumental in bringing together public, private and social organizations in the aftermath of the Ferguson unrest.    

“Although we were forced into the spotlight, our community has collectively taken responsibility to make sure the world sees what a city can go through and that it can come out stronger for it,” Neidorff said.

Centene opened a $30 million service center in the suburb last year. Neidorff made the commitment within weeks of the unrest in Ferguson.

World Wide Technology is a $9.4 billion corporation and the largest African-American owned company in the U.S. Chairman and founder David Steward said helping the National Urban League is about giving back.

He said the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis helped him as he began his professional life in the city following college.

“This is a payback. This is an investment back into the future,” Steward said, “because I’m a result of those who stood before us.”

More than 21,000 people attended the National Urban League Conference last year in Baltimore, a record number for the organization. McMillan said he’d like to see 25,000 people attend this year in St. Louis.

“We want to make sure we promote this over the next five months to get a huge turnout from people across the country,” McMillan said.

He said that he hopes about 15,000 of those are local people. The conference will include a career fair, a college fair, an entrepreneurship summit and a seniors day.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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