“When you look at everything that has been going on, it becomes clear we still need to fight for things,” Fugett said. “I came here to learn how to advance my career, but I’m inspired now to become more political.”
Founded in 1910, the Urban League is the oldest community-based civil rights organization in the country. Over the years, however, the focus of its annual convention shifted from the civil rights struggle to a huge professional networking event.
This year seems different.
The registration period for the conference was already open by the time the Supreme Court last month rescinded a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. As résumés were being polished for the conference’s job fair, a Florida jury concluded that the killer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin could go home free.
Together, the events became a call to action for many of the 6,000 in attendance.
Sybrina Fulton was handing out an unusual kind of business card. The back featured a now-
familiar photo — of her dead son, Trayvon Martin, wearing a hoodie — that she distributed in the hope that people will fight to “not let this happen to anybody else’s child.”
“No college for Trayvon. No grandkids coming from Trayvon,” she told attendees. “All because of a law, a law that has prevented the person who shot and killed my son to be held accountable and to pay for this awful crime.”
Organizers revised some events and invited new guests, including Fulton. Speakers were asked to focus less on the economy and more on equality. By the time Fugett sat down Thursday for an early-morning session, the theme of “Jobs Rebuild America” was an afterthought. An “emergency town hall” had been called to address voting rights.
“I know there may be anger, frustration and sadness as a result of the killing of Trayvon Martin. I know that many are upset about the effort to dismantle voting rights,” Urban League President Marc Morial said, adding, “We must not become cynical or lethargic in our quest for justice.”
When Attorney General Eric H. Holder announced Thursday at the convention that he was pushing for greater federal scrutiny for voting changes in Texas, he got a standing ovation.
Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, asked everyone in attendance to stand. She summed up the session’s message simply: “It’s movement time.”
Just how such a movement will manifest itself has long been a salient question for civil rights organizations. As the harshest forms of racism receded in the United States and blacks made economic and social gains, many organizations such as the Urban League became more a draw for those interested in socializing with fellow professionals than a place for social activism.