Black people can rise to the top in mainstream America by building up their own businesses, by climbing up the corporate ladder, by preparing themselves for business careers, say leaders of the National Urban League. Earl Graves, editor and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, set the tone for this new thrust at the Urban League's recent 78th National Conference when he told delegates:
``There is no more important issue facing the future of America than our ability to end economic discrimination based on race. And there's no better place than right here in Detroit to begin to meet that challenge.''
A new mood prevails in America, said John E. Jacob, the league's president and chief executive officer.
Parity for all Americans by the year 2000 is the goal of the National Urban League - parity through political, economic, and social progress.
Politics ranked first among the 16,000 delegates at this year's annual Urban League meeting. They flocked in overflow numbers to see Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis, Democratic Party candidate for president, and attended forums and special panels on politics.
But participants also took special interest in black businesses, blacks moving up the corporate ladder, and black women in business.
And in response to what they regarded as ``racist remarks'' by a Japanese political leader in Tokyo, delegates approved protests against Japanese companies (see accompanying story).
The Urban League will emphasize the growth of black businesses and blacks in the economic mainstream, although jobs, affirmative action, and job training will remain as key goals, Mr. Jacob said.
Editor Graves said black business is thriving, but that much more needs to be done. He said there was a need for black support of black-owned companies, private enterprise contracts with black firms, and increased public-sector commitments to black economic growth.
``Make no mistake, we are standing on a threshold of new and exciting times for equal economic opportunity, but we are not there yet,'' he said. ``The future of equal economic opportunity in America depends on what we do from here on in.''
Basing his words on Black Enterprise magazine statistics, Graves cited these indicators of progress:
The Black Enterprise 100 has been expanded to 200, one list of top industrial-service companies and another list of top automobile dealers. These 200 companies had total revenues of $6.1 billion in 1987. ``They are positioning themselves to successfully compete with large majority-owned corporations both here and in markets around the world.''
Black executives occupy key positions in some of the world's top corporations. The magazine listed the 25 most powerful black corporate managers. They reportedly earn from $250,000 to more than $1 million a year, have worked with the same company for 10 to 20 years, and are involved in community activities. Jointly they have control over budgets and revenues worth more than $1 trillion.
Women are making phenomenal progress. ``Unfortunately, not one of the 25 top black managers is a woman,'' Graves said. ``But experts predict black women will enter a new era of opportunity not only in large corporations, but in their own businesses in the next decade.''
In spite of the expansion of black enterprise, Graves warned, the major barrier to black progress continues to be racism. ``It is true that the roots of racism have lost much of their hold, but they are still strong enough to uphold the final barriers we must dismantle,'' he said.
Jacob outlined three other issues demanding prompt attention as the league wrapped up its annual national conference:
1.The league has initiated a ``90-day countdown'' campaign to get blacks to register and vote in the presidential election. ``We don't want a single eligible black voter to sit the election out,'' Jacob said. ``We want each one to vote for president. We want each one to vote for local and state candidates, too. Every vote counts.''
2.The league will launch the nation's first nationwide program to inform American blacks of the danger of AIDS and how to prevent AIDS from spreading, especially among black youth.
3.After its first year the league's Educational Initiative has been declared a success. Jacob says that by the end of its second year each of the league's 113 affiliates will have a program of its own, and the program will be broadened to include pre-school and after-school programs as well as the usual stay-in-school efforts.
Throughout the conference delegates often chanted, ``Where's George?'' when discussions centered on what they considered sensitive issues. Many delegates were disappointed that Vice-President George Bush had not accepted an invitation to address the Urban League.