ST. LOUIS — The Rev. Al Sharpton and five other speakers agreed Thursday at a national convention that closing the economic gap between blacks and whites is the most important issue facing blacks today.
At the first full session of the 2007 National Urban League Conference, speakers discussed issues important to blacks in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, including health care and political participation.
“Universal health care to me is the only way you are going to bridge the gap to guarantee all Americans health care,” Sharpton said. “The gap between black and white in health care in some areas is three-to-one in terms of services. The only way you are going to do that communally is with a universal health care plan that makes it all an even playing field. Unless that gap is closed, it will never be one truly American entity.”
While Columbia does not have a chapter of the National Urban League and no Columbia residents attended the conference, members of Columbia’s black community said the issues discussed there are of great importance to residents.
Pamela Hardin, the first vice president of the Columbia branch of the NAACP, said health care should be available to everyone.
“Health care is a nationwide problem,” she said. “It is the responsibility of citizens to educate themselves on health care programs.”
Arlene Tucker, active member of the Second Baptist Church of Columbia, agreed and said that health care and insurance were important issues in Columbia’s black community.
At Thursday’s session, Sharpton also talked about the need for blacks to participate more fully in the nation’s political process.
“African-Americans need to be just as aggressive as any other constituency,” he said.
Wynna Faye Elbert, a Columbia community activist, said she is concerned about the lack of focus by the two major political parties on the black vote.
However, the black community is partly responsible for that, Elbert said.
“The (black) community needs to become more involved in the political process,” she said.
Nathan Stephens, director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at MU, said the economic gap between blacks and whites in Columbia is a problem.
“What methodology do the candidates have to decrease the economic gap for blacks?” he asked.
In preliminary remarks, Richard F. Syron, CEO and chairman of Freddie Mac, said home ownership is another example of the economic gap between blacks and whites.
“For four decades now, there has been a 25 percent gap between the home ownership rate in black America and white America,” he said.
Three 2008 presidential candidates — U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. — will discuss similar issues today at the conference.