Black leaders look for ways to turn enthusiasm into action at home
New Orleans — Winning an affirmative-action campaign or helping to elect the mayor does not mean success at home, say directors of local Urban Leagues. ''Our need for community services goes on,'' says James Compton, president of the Chicago Urban League. ''We have to fight to assert black political power, although we elected Harold Washington mayor last spring.''
Mr. Compton, an activist, is among more than 125 local executives attending the 73rd national conference of the National Urban League now in progress here.
''I like the program and policies offered here at the convention, but I know that being inspired at a convention is one thing, and turning inspiration into action is another.''
Robena Jackson speaks in a soft voice as she says, ''In Austin, Texas, we have to struggle for everything we get.''
The Austin Urban League is only six years old, and blacks are only 11 percent of the Texas capital's population. Chicanos are a larger minority, with 19 percent of the population. ''We don't have the money or the warm bodies we need to do the work we want to do,'' says Ms. Jackson, one of the league's few woman executives.
The 3,000 delegates heard the national program for the Urban League as outlined by its president, John E. Jacob, and its board chairman, Coy Ecklund. Mr. Jacob summed up priorities in his address on the conference theme - building stronger communities together.
He offered a four-point program:
* Oppose Reagan administration policies. The league will stress a soft-sell approach through ongoing register-and-vote campaigns and community meetings rather than massive demonstrations and marches. Jacob says his advice to President Reagan is, ''Don't run.'' He adds, however, that the league will not endorse any candidate, including a black candidate.
* Reduce the high unemployment among blacks, especially teen-agers.
* Upgrade education for blacks, particularly in inner-city schools. Bernard C. Watson, a board member and chairman of the William Penn Foundation, warned the convention that ''college education is fast becoming exclusive for the well-to-do. All are entitled to a fair chance. We must seek public commitment to equity for black students.''
* Make affirmative action work in both the private sector and the public sector.
''A black child born today has a 50 percent chance of growing up underprivileged, undereducated, and underemployed,'' Jacob said. ''The National Urban League is concerned over the plight of the black family in America and the decline of the black community. Black people are in trouble today.''
The league is also seeking to reverse decreasing participation of whites in the movement, which has always stressed interracial cooperation. Only about 5 percent of those attending this conference are white, compared with 20-30 percent in the '60s and '70s.
Local league executives say that the recession, loss of federal funds, and the breakdown in urban communities make their jobs more difficult at home.
Mr. Compton says he's aggressive in fund raising. The Chicago Urban League, considered to be one of the nation's most radical, relies on contributions from the private sector for its basic budget, Compton says.
''We suffer from the loss of public funds,'' he says, ''but we haven't cut back on our program. I always said we can't rely on the whims of politicians to supply us money. Our program goes on because we have our operational funds in place.''
Major projects supported by private donations include the construction of a new, four-story headquarters office and the $15 million renovation of the Michigan Garden Boulevard complex, a 450-unit housing project.
The league operates special projects in other parts of the city, including an employment center, a young-parents center, and a computer training center.
Although Chicago is surviving the money crisis, smaller league units are not finding it easy. Several cities such as Albany, Ga., are seeking new executives. Ms. Jackson in Austin is one president who refuses to view the current crisis pessimistically.
Heading a young agency caught in a drastic cut of federal funds, as well as a slight United Way cut, she says, ''I'm optimistic because we have attracted some loyal friends in our six years here.''
She lists her problems as holding on to her small staff, recruiting volunteers, and chalking up a track record. Nevertheless, the Austin league has launched a new program, Youth Leadership Development Project, that shows signs of early success.
The project is aimed at children in Grades 6 to 9. ''We are trying to prevent problems before they occur - teen pregnancy, drug abuse - and learning employment and basic skills. These young people can still be influenced by their parents. Some are low-income youth overlooked by schools as leadership material.''
Ms. Jackson called her league ''well and surviving.'' She said whites are working well with blacks in maintaining the Urban League's interracial policy.