Benjamin L. Cardin

Marc Morial

Marion Wright Edelman


Cardin Calls Trump-Putin Summit, Foreign Trip Detrimental to U.S. National Security Interests, Values

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 16, 2018)—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who earlier this year commissioned a major report on Vladimir Putin’s attacks against democracy, universal values, and the rule of law in Russia and throughout Europe, released the following statement Monday after the conclusion of a summit between President Trump and Mr. Putin in Helsinki, Finland:

“President Trump’s conduct in Helsinki was dangerous and flies in the face of how the leader of the free world should conduct themselves on the international stage.

“The president’s entire trip abroad in Europe was detrimental to U.S. national security interests and another assault on the values that define us as Americans and as a global leader. The trip was punctuated by a disastrous press conference alongside Vladimir Putin where Mr. Trump said he did not ‘see any reason why it would be’ Russia that meddled in our 2016 election, despite his own Intelligence Community unanimously confirming it to be true.  Such a statement is deeply disturbing, defies logic, and appears to be the latest gift from the American president to the Russian dictator. Vladimir Putin has shown time and again that if you do not stand up to his aggression, he will continue to push further and grow more dangerous.

“President Trump is unable or unwilling to defend America’s interests, values, or friends, or to stand up to adversaries such as Mr. Putin. It is unacceptable conduct from the U.S. president and further evidence that on behalf of the American people, Congress will need to play an even stronger role in U.S. foreign policy to protect the friends, interests, and institutions that help keep our country safe.”



The Passing of Civil Rights Legend John Mack is a Deeply-Felt Loss to the Urban League Movement

“John understood that to truly change hearts and minds in the LAPD, he had to go to work on the inside. And because he was not someone who just shouted in anger and tore things down for the sake of tearing them down, the LAPD saw they could trust him. That’s rare leadership.”

—Civil Rights Attorney Connie Rice, on John Mack’s appointment as Los Angeles Police Commission President


(July 13, 2018)—When Los Angeles was devastated by unrest in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial, the person to whom President George H.W. Bush reached out was Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack. It was John Mack who guided the redevelopment of the neighborhoods shattered by the riots.

It was a familiar role for John, who first arrived in Los Angeles in 1969 just a few years after the infamous Watts riots.

The death of John Mack last month, at age 81, was a tremendous loss to the city, to the Urban League Movement, and to me, personally.

While John’s service to the Urban League goes back more than half a century, his association with the leaders of the movement goes back even further.  While he was studying for his Master of Social Work degree at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta), he became a protégé of Whitney M. Young, then Dean of the School of Social Work.  Just a few short years later, Young would take the helm of the National Urban League and ask John to lead the affiliate in Flint, Michigan.

He was the obvious choice to lead the Los Angeles Urban League in 1969, at the height of the Black Power movement. He called himself a “sane militant” and was unmatched in his ability to channel the city’s passion and fury into positive change. He could negotiate as skillfully with street gang members as with mayors and Congress members.

His life was an emblem of the African American journey itself. He was born into the segregated South in 1937 and spent his summers picking cotton. While he spoke often of the indignities of Jim Crow, his feelings may best be represented by what happened when white construction workers building a dormitory at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University set up separate “white” and “colored” outhouses. John—a founder of the student chapter of the NAACP—and his friends burned them down.

The list of honors and awards John Mack earned during his many years of service is long and includes the very first National Urban League Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award for Leadership in Race Relations, and League’s “Legend of the Century” Award in 2000. In 2005, the Los Angeles Unified School District recognized his commitment to equal opportunity in education by christening the “John W. Mack Elementary School.”

The Whitney M. Young, Jr., Award—which John and the Los Angeles affiliate won in 1993, carried with it a $10,000 grant, which the affiliate used to support sensitivity training among African American and Latino student leaders in middle school, and to support the African American-Jewish Leadership Connection. At the time, the group was fighting California’s Proposition 209, and anti-affirmative action initiative. Though the ballot initiative passed statewide, it was rejected by a majority of voters in Los Angeles County, where John and the Connection were active.

We had planned to honor John during the 2018 Conference next month in Columbus, Ohio, and now will pay tribute to his memory. A scholarship fund has been established in his honor through the California Community Foundation—for more information, visit johnmack.

John wasn’t just an affiliate President and CEO; he was a leader among leaders, helming the Association of Executives. He was a member of the Academy of Fellows, a group of affiliate leaders with 15 years or more of experience, who served as mentors to new affiliate CEOs. And he served as Vice Chair of the National Urban League Board of Trustees.

By the time I was appointed President and CEO of the National Urban League in 2003, John was a longtime veteran. His mentorship over the years has been invaluable, and I knew I could rely on his steady guidance. It is a loss deeply felt throughout our movement and we join his children and grandchildren in mourning him.




Dorothy Cotton: Lessons in Servant Leadership and Movement Building

(July 20, 2018)—”We love Dr. King. I love Dr. King, but it was not Dr. King’s movement. He did not start the Civil Rights Movement … It was started by one person here, one person there, one person over here. If you see something wrong, sometimes you may have to start an action all by yourself. One person sees something wrong and starts doing something about it. People will join you if you do it with the right spirit.”

Dear friend Dorothy Cotton, who died last month at 88, worked tirelessly to do something about the injustices around her that she knew were wrong. She had a joyous, infectious spirit that made others want to join her. Like Septima Clark, Ella Baker, and other great women leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, she is too little known compared to some of her close male colleagues like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and Ambassador Andrew Young. But as Education Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Dorothy Cotton was an indispensable member of SCLC’s inner circle. And her attitude about leadership has lessons for us right now.

She might have seemed an unlikely “leadership” candidate growing up in Goldsboro, North Carolina with her three sisters and their widower father, a tobacco factory worker who “didn’t know what college was.” She couldn’t remember ever seeing a book at home. But she worked her way through college and while at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia she joined civil rights leader Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker’s church, where she quickly started getting involved in local movement activities. Dorothy Cotton eventually became secretary of the Petersburg Improvement Association founded by Rev. Walker.

When Dr. King asked Rev. Walker to come to Atlanta and become SCLC’s first full time executive director in 1960, Rev. Walker asked Dorothy Cotton to go too. She originally intended to stay and help for just a few weeks but as she wrote in her book If Your Back’s Not Bent, she realized “our work with SCLC was not just a job, it was a life commitment.”

As SCLC’s Education Director she ran its lauded Citizenship Education Program, training over 6,000 people from across the South in week-long workshops on voter education, literacy, and nonviolent protest tactics to prepare them to return home and spread the movement. SCLC built on the work the very great Septima Clark started at Highlander Folk School teaching people to run Citizenship Education Schools in their own communities. Dorothy Cotton had a wonderful angelic voice and was known for using music at every meeting to teach and inspire. She described their mission as “[helping] people realize that they have within themselves the stuff it takes to bring about a new order.”

She accompanied Dr. King on his final trip to Memphis and later worked at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change before beginning another phase of leadership as a university administrator. Today the Dorothy Cotton Institute, part of the Center for Transformative Action affiliated with Cornell University, continues her legacy by training a new generation to foster and protect human rights and achieve social change through civic participation.

She loved working with students and we were grateful that she generously shared her time and wisdom and gifted singing with young and older leaders at the Children’s Defense Fund-Haley Farm and other meetings including at the Rockefeller Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy where women gathered from around the world. At one session she emphasized that action doesn’t always have to stem from a formal plan: “On a lot of college campuses where I do workshops and talk, some young folk think us old folk had a blueprint … We sat up almost all night sometimes strategizing. We would take an action, and then we would see what kind of reaction we got, and then we would do the next action based on the reaction we got. I just want to say, a movement is dynamic. It’s evolving. It’s changing. Nobody had a blueprint, and don’t let anybody tell you that we did.” She added: “Action springs up in a lot of different places at the same time … We were sick and tired of being sick and tired, and some folk took action and we learned as we went.” She always reminded us that we can’t wait for leaders—leadership emerges from action.

Her words should be an encouragement to the wave of brave and committed students, other young people, and those of all ages in communities across the country who are speaking out today against gun violence, horrific immigration policies tearing children from parents, and a list of other injustices. Dorothy Cotton would love the resistance springing up across our nation right now and it must continue and grow and grow. Like Dorothy, we must stand up and protest as so many are doing for as long as it takes when we see rampant injustice all around us. When we see something wrong, don’t ask why doesn’t somebody do something about it, but why don’t I do something. This is how transforming movements happen—person by person speaking out and saying no against unjust policies.



Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to








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