Congressman Bobby Scott, Congressman Elijah Cummings, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, attorney Benjamin Crump, president Toyota Manufacturing Wil James Jr. (Photo credit: Terry Gilliam)

A comprehensive list of political leaders, business executives, students, and community members convened in Baltimore for the four-day National Urban League conference at the Baltimore Convention Center. The theme of this year’s conference was “Save Our Cities: Education, Jobs, & Justice.” Baltimore experienced a tense year following the riots in response to Freddie Gray’s death, and the Urban League made a strong statement by showing up and addressing these challenges head-on.  It should be of no surprise that next year’s convention is headed to St. Louis.

The gravity of many issues affecting the African American community were thoroughly addressed at a variety of workshops and panels throughout the conference. Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine addressed the Urban League audience Thursday, Aug. 4, and had it not been for President Barack Obama’s birthday, first lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to attend as well.

A major highlight of the weekend was an intimate toast to attorney Benjamin Crump (who handled the Trayvon Martin & Michael Brown cases), held at the Four Seasons hotel. The Toyota sponsored event, in a beautifully decorated room overlooking the Baltimore Harbor, attracted a who’s who of special guests, including Rev. Al Sharpton; Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Congressman Elijah Cummings; States Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and her husband, city councilman Nick Mosby; Congressman Bobby Scott; BET SVP of music, dpecials, and news, Connie Orlando; Shanti Das, PMM Agency president and toast organizer Kimberly Blackwell, and the Toyota executives Alva Mason; Wil James; and John Ridgeway. At the affair, Crump launched his nonprofit agency “MyDads,” which will focus on leadership opportunities for young Black males whose fathers are not active in their lives. Toyota made a $5,000 donation to Crump’s program.

In addition to all of the great panels, the awards galas stole the show both in design and execution. The Women of Power & Business Leaders Awards Luncheon sponsored by Nationwide, Bank of America, CVS Health, Georgia-Pacific and Shell recognized Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards; Urban League of Broward County CEO Dr. Germaine Baugh-Smith; Comcast Corporation’s Charisse R. Lille; senior adviser and assistant to President Obama Valerie Jarrett; and Minority Business Development Agency’s Alejandra Y. Castillo.

Another powerful ceremony, the Whitney M. Young Awards, sponsored by Toyota, Moet Hennessey, JPMorgan Chase & Co., BP, and UPS honored Michelle Obama and BET chairman and CEO, Debra Lee with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Living Legend awards went to president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Wade Henderson; U. S. Congressman Elijah Cummings; and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. President’s awards went to music impresario Kevin Liles; and actor, producer, and performer Nate Parker.

The conference was rounded out with performances by Doug E. Fresh, M.C. Lyte, D-Nice, Angela Winbush, and Lavell Crawford, as well as conversations, panels, and recognition of entertainers Janelle Monae and Lamman Rucker.

From students and job seekers, to business executives and politicians, the National Urban League conference had something for everyone. Rolling out met a lot of people who admitted that this was their first conference and prior to it they had no clue what the Urban League did. If you fall in that category, look them up and get involved, they have branches throughout the United States.

Terrance Pratt

Brand Strategist and arts evangelist. Catch me on IG @tpratt111