LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Los Angeles Urban League welcomes the National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial on January 13, 2024 at the Fairmont Hotel in Los Angeles, CA (Photo by Karim Saafir @karims123)

National Urban League President/CEO Marc H. Morial is on a high note, but isn’t he always. Coming fresh off the success of his new critically-acclaimed HBO documentary, “Gumbo Coalition,” aptly named for his energetic leadership style and the title for the most recent version of his book, “The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite, and Achieve,” the former New Orleans mayor who also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors made a landmark visit to Los Angeles to celebrate the Los Angeles Urban League’s newly installed President & CEO Cynthia Mitchell-Heard.

On Jan. 13, an exclusive reception was held at the Fairmount Century Plaza to celebrate Mitchell-Heard’s historic appointment as the first woman in nearly a century to head the iconic civil rights organization since founder Katherine Barr served in the late 1920s until 1931.

The intimate setting provided Morial with a unique opportunity to celebrate Mitchell-Heard’s promotion while engaging in important conversations about the organization’s 2024 agenda aiming to defend democracy, demand diversity and defeat poverty – an effort he refers to as the 3Ds. Attendees also listened to Mitchell-Heard’s vision as the leader of Los Angeles Urban League.

The power of women leadership in politics was displayed front and center with U.S. Representatives Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee along with L.A. Mayor Karen Bass in attendance.  The Los Angeles Urban League’s Board of Directors were on hand as well.

The Los Angeles Sentinel sat down with Morial to discuss his latest book, film, and how the organization that he has led for more than 20 years plans to tackle modern issues challenging Black American households.


Marc Morial addresses the audience. (Lila Brown/ L.A. Sentinel)

L.A. Sentinel: I want to jump right into your book. Please tell me more about Chapter 8: Working the Room: A Leader Builds Networks with Intention.

Marc Morial: Leadership is all about people. Good leaders influence, impact, direct, inspire, and team up with people to fulfill an organizational objective, purpose, or cause. In my life, leadership is learning from others. Learning from others by observation, conversation, and shared experiences. Generally, good leaders are parts of teams. Organizational leaders, many times, get an opportunity to pick, choose, shape, and direct. Skill and talent are needed when you select, direct, inspire and motivate a team.

LAS: In the “Gumbo Coalition” film, you talked a lot about your family. Tell me more about your family’s genealogy.


The L.A. Sentinel conducted an exclusive interview with Marc Morial. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

MM: I’ve got a very interesting family background because on my mother’s side, the family emanates from what is now the Whitney Plantation Slavery Museum, which is about 35 miles northwest of New Orleans in Saint John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana. Once freed after the Emancipation Proclamation, the family grew throughout many generations. Many of them became sharecroppers like many newly freed and formerly enslaved people.

As sharecroppers, there was a portion of family that lost their land, which is what happened in sharecropping when there was not a good harvest that season. Usually in sharecropping, they would take your land away if you couldn’t pay back in a single harvest season. After that, many family members left and went to New Orleans.

My mother’s father became a doctor. He somehow made his way to Howard University in the 1920s. Other members of the family owned grocery stores, hair products companies, funeral homes, florists. One member of the family owned an Exxon service station, the first Black to own an Exxon service station in the South in the 1950s.

My father’s side of the family were residents of New Orleans’ historic 7th Ward, but their family roots came from Haiti. They were part of the community of people who came to New Orleans in the early 1800s during and after the Haitian Revolution.

My parents were very much civil rights warriors. My father was a civil rights lawyer, later a judge and a politician and my mother was a schoolteacher and activist.

LAS: In the case for Reparations, genealogy will be important as many Black Americans are looking into their family records. At what point does Reparations become a campaign issue especially with this being an election year?

MM: We must continue to talk about and raise the fact until America repairs the original sin of slavery which was devastating because it went on for hundreds and hundreds of years. After slavery ended, there was a belief that the nation was on the path to justice and reconciliation. Instead, a segregated system was devised, and the American caste system did not go away.

It’s important when people talk about reparations, it’s not just about compensation. It’s about changes in policies. It’s about changing the arc and leveling the playing field. It’s about everyone truly embracing it so everyone has access to the American dream.

LAS: This being an election year, I’m noticing that a lot of young voters are being dissuaded by misinformation or online bullying. How do you encourage young voters as intimidation tactics move online for voter suppression?

MM: I tell voters don’t be bamboozled. You have to take responsibility not to be tricked. You’re going to be deceived. Your rights are going to be hacked. You have to be everything in the age of information. Check the source. Don’t believe anything just because its online until you know and trust the source.

When I was young, we believed in the responsibility to vote because people had fought to protect it and preserve it. When you don’t vote, you’re giving up your power to someone else.

Protesting by not voting is an exercise in self defeatism. You defeat yourselves when you pretend that by not voting, you’re sending a message. You’re not sending a message. If we don’t vote, we’re going to be laughed at. People will laugh at us behind our backs saying you gave my vote more weight.

LAS: In your book, you advised on bridging the old with the new.

MM: The tactics count. If you want to march and protest but I say do it nonviolently. We all have to vote. If you want to write op-eds, you want to post on social media…post. Just be involved. The worst we can do is to become spectators in the gallery. This is not a concert. It’s more fun to go to a concert and at the concert to sing and dance along. Same thing in the civic community. We have to be participants, not spectators.

LAS: I want to switch gears a little bit to discuss defending democracy. When will the United States get serious about domestic terrorism?

MM: We better take domestic terrorism seriously. What’s happened in Buffalo, [New York], Mother Emanuel [AME Church] and Tree of Life [synagogue] with people using violence, killing people for political purposes because they’ve been radicalized or angry is a threat to the country, and we have to do more. We have to be vigilant. Those that engage in acts of domestic terrorism have to be punished. They have to be prosecuted.

LAS: The documentary showed behind-the-scenes during the 2020 Presidential election season in which you successfully advocated for the Biden-Harris administration. Now, has the President kept his campaign promise by including you?

MM: In terms of the number of meetings we’ve had, it has not been what we expected, but we’ve had a number of meaningful meetings, and we’ve had great conversations with members of his leadership team. Ultimately, when I look at President Biden on the action side, on the policy side, he has the most impressive record when it comes to racial justice of any president in modern history. You can’t dispute that.

Now, what we have to encourage them to do is to continue and do more. There’s unfinished business. We’ve not passed a new Voting Rights Act. We have not yet passed an effective Police Reform Bill. We’ve not set up a Commission to examine Reparations. We haven’t been able to pass a National Living Wage Bill or a permanent Child Tax Credit Bill.

LAS: Finally, lets conclude with women leadership.

MM: Women leaders are demonstrating and have demonstrated time and time again they can be as effective as men. They can outperform men and can do anything anyone else can do.

LAS: Well, the Los Angeles Urban League chapter hasn’t had a woman president in more than 100 years.

MM: What so interesting for the Urban League movement is that more than half of our local leaders now are women. We have 92 local CEOs. More than half of them are women now. Women have really, really made significant strides within the Urban League movement.