Fostering diversity and inclusion in challenging times

Marc Morial, National Urban League’s dynamic president and former New Orleans mayor.


ST. PETERSBURG — The unpredictable and unprecedented difficulties of this year have brought unsettling changes to our individual lives and to organizations like the Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL)

This year will always be remembered as the year of the pandemic, a time of pain and death, a renewed struggle for racial justice and one of financial hardship. For the PCUL, this confluence of events has increased demand for our services, with requests for help soaring 400 percent.

Our annual fundraiser, the Equal Opportunity Dinner, had to be a virtual event this year. During the Oct. 29 program, we announced the launch of an emergency fund to raise a $250,000 by the end of the year. The funds will allow us to continue to help the many people in Pinellas County who come to us in desperate need.

We were very fortunate to have a number of leaders and supporters at our virtual event. Our keynote speaker was Marc Morial, the National Urban League’s dynamic president and former New Orleans mayor. His message was both important and inspiring.

He spoke of the four pandemics engulfing our nation: the coronavirus, the economy that has cost people their jobs and homes, the fight for racial justice and a crisis of the American soul. Morial stated the crisis of the American spirit and morality “envelopes and intertwines” the other pandemics “like one of those wicked vines that take over your garden that you just can’t get rid of.”

President Morial also said that battling the other three pandemics will be made more difficult without confronting the nation’s crisis of its soul. He reminded us that moments such as these bring people together and that the Urban League is a leadership organization that brings people together to address the problems that face the community.

What does it mean to take to build a nation “that is truly one for all,” he asked, a nation where equity, decency, tolerance, opportunity and collective responsibility are themes and values that we embrace and elevate.

“We can commit to do what we can to build the biggest and strongest coalitions we can command to attack these challenges,” he urged.

He dispenses similar wisdom in his bestselling book, “The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite and Achieve.” In a brief Q&A session, Morial spoke of learning about leadership from people from all walks of life and of harnessing the help of grassroots organizations, faith communities and all levels of government.

He urged us to commit to be transformational agents and praised Urban League affiliates for quickly pivoting to respond to the nation’s current crisis.

I was proud that our own Ailyn Alvarez-Perez of NULITES, Urban League’s youth program, introduced Morial.

Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh, president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County, represented the Florida consortium of Urban League affiliates spread over 19 counties. She gave a brief but stirring talk about our commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion during these difficult times. That means, she said, challenging outside organizations to be part of the effort.

In Pinellas County, the Urban League is pleased that it can count on the support of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg for such commitment.  Randy Russell, founding president and CEO of the Foundation, told our virtual audience that he was participating in our Equal Opportunity Dinner not as a funder, but as a partner.

He spoke of the Foundation’s goal of making Pinellas County the most anti-racist county in the nation. To that end, he made a significant announcement. The Foundation is launching the Pinellas Race Equity Leadership Council. I am one of the — for now — 22 to 23 inaugural members of this groundbreaking endeavor.

“A revolution means a change in approach,” Russell said. “It’s not scary. It’s right.”

There was other news. Urban League board member Joe Bourdow spoke about the emergency fundraiser. He reminded us of the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on Black Pinellas County residents and of the enormous increase in requests for help.

Bourdow told the audience that the PCUL board, headed by chair Linda Marcelli, has begun to tell the Urban League story — about its job training, food, health, youth, housing and other programs  — to win new supporters for its work. More than 120 informational packages have already been mailed to potential benefactors.

Jade Spradley, our director of special projects, also spoke about the new fundraising campaign, HH2H (Here’s How to Help). Please go to our website at or to learn how to participate.

I am thankful for the support we received for our virtual Equal Opportunity Dinner program, which was moderated by St. Petersburg City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, outgoing Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, State Sen. Darryl Rouson and Carl Lavender, chief equity officer for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, all participated.

My prayer that night was that the Pinellas County Urban League would be the hands and feet of Jesus to help those in need and that we would convey a message of hope. I also prayed that God would help us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to look out for others.

It’s a prayer I continue to offer today, not only for the Urban League but for all people in our nation.

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