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NEW ORLEANS, (July 31, 2012) – The National Urban League’s 2012 Conference began with an announcement from President Barack Obama and concluded with words of inspiration from Stevie Wonder.

“This year’s Conference, in my hometown of New Orleans, may be our most successful ever,” said National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial, who served two terms as mayor of the Crescent City. “We were honored to have President Obama deliver the opening address, in which he announced an important education initiative and addressed the growing problem of firearms violence.”

On Wednesday night, President Obama announced an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.|

“A higher education in a 21st century cannot be a luxury. It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford,” he said.

Obama also made reference to the mass shooting earlier this month, saying, “a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities.”

The President’s remarks kicked off three days of workshops, seminars and panel discussions focused on the theme “Occupy the Vote: Employment and Education Empower the Nation.”

“I am astonished by the efforts that are underway in this nation to roll back the progress that we’ve made on voting rights.” Morial said in his “State of the Urban League” address on Thursday morning. ” The rise of the modern-day poll tax and literacy tests, disguised as sane and sensible voter identification laws, restrictions on important innovations like early voting , and handcuffs on community-based organizations that want to register people to vote are nothing other than modern-day Jim Crow methods in the clothing of James and Mary Crow, Esquire.”

Morial said attendance at the conference – both registered attendees and community members attending free events – approached record numbers, with nearly 5,000 registered attendees, more than 9,000 passing through the NUL Experience Expo, and 2,00 participating in the Career and Networking Fair.

Nearly 600 youth are participated in the Project Ready College Fair on Saturday, where they met with representatives from at least 60 colleges, universities and college access organizations, and scholarship organizations, who assisted in the college application process.

Morial thanked New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Urban League of Greater New Orleans President and CEO Nolan Rollins for welcoming the Conference and for their leadership in making it a success.

“No other city in the nation represents so well the strength and vitality of the multiculturalism we advocate and support, and no two civic leaders are more devoted,” Morial said. On Saturday, Morial joined Rollins in dedicating the local affiliate’s new Clarence L. Barney Head Start Center, named for the affiliate’s longtime President and CEO. The Conference also was the setting for a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the National Urban League Guild, an auxiliary to the League focused on fundraising and volunteerism. During his address on Thursday, Morial congratulated Guild President Frankie M. Brown. “I cannot imagine where we would be without the Guilds as a force,” he said.

The Conference concluded Saturday with the Whitney M. Young Awards Gala, where recording artist and activist Stevie Wonder and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder received the League’s “Living Legend” Award.

“Prejudice, hatred, starvation…I’m tired of praying for things we don’t want to change,” Wonder cautioned before launching into a surprise perf

Teresa Candori

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