A Conversation with Marc Morial on the New Urban League Empowerment Center in Harlem

Marc Morial speaking
National Urban League President Marc Morial

Last month, the National Urban League (NUL) announced a $242 million historic building project in Harlem, The Urban League Empowerment Center, that will expand employment opportunities and create housing options in the 125th street area.

The project also marks the first civil rights museum installed in the northern part of the U.S., the new Urban Civil Rights Experience Museum, one of the several entities that will be housed in the space among others.

Here, NUL President Marc Morial goes into detail about the project.   

TNJ.com: How has the National Urban League worked to strengthen urban neighborhoods over the past 100 years?

March Morial: The most important thing we’ve done over the years is provide direct services and community development in 90 communities across the nation through our network of affiliates. Whether it’s helping people become homeowners or building affordable housing, the work we do touches almost 2 million people a year.     

We’re known also for our advocacy: policy advocacy and legislative advocacy as well as thought leadership on issues of cilvil rights and economic opportunity.

TNJ.com: You now have the opportunity to continue doing this work, but based in Harlem in the new Urban League Empowerment Center that’s currently being built. What does that mean for the League considering it was founded in Harlem?

Marc Morial: Going back to Harlem has been a dream of mine since I joined the National Urban League. There is no African American neighborhood more historic than Harlem. Harlem is unique. Harlem is special. Harlem is known throughout the world; and being there allows us to be a force for the future of Harlem, and for the future of New York.

We’re also doing something that hasn’t been done in Harlem: we’re combining the Urban Civil Rights Museum with the National Urban League’s Institute for Race, Equity and Justice; and building retail space to create jobs along with 170 units of affordable housing.

This simply has never been done, and certainly not by an African American civil rights organization, and with the level of African American professionals who have been involved in this project.

In addition to the National Urban League’s headquarters, United Negro College Fund New York, One Hundred Black Men New York and Jazzmobile will have space in the building. It’s a powerful project, not only for Harlem, but for the nation. We’re building an institution, not a building. We’re trying to make a statement that’s heard around the world.

TNJ.com: Reportedly, the project has committed 30 percent of awarded contracts for minority-owned businesses. Tell me a bit about that.

Marc Morial: We will meet or exceed that goal for the architects on the building side of the project. Already on the development side we have BRP, an African American company, which is the lead developer on the project; we also have an African American lawyer; an African American owners rep; and an African American architectural firm.

TNJ.com: When do you expect the grand opening to be?

Marc Morial: No later than late 2024. It’s such an exciting, powerful project. We had a few doubters along the way, but Governor Cuomo’s team and the state have been extraordinary and behind this project from the very beginning.

We also received support from Mike Bloomberg, Bill de Blasio’s administration, and many elected officials. It has been an important coming together of forces. It took a while for everything to come together, and we didn’t want to announce anything until we signed the lease and knew we were ready to go!