CINCINNATI – When the National Urban League starts its annual conference here Wednesday, the organization will bring more than its 8,500 delegates and $2 million in visitor spending to the region.
The group also will help seal Cincinnati's status as a host of the nation's largest multicultural conventions.
With the National Urban League's conference, Cincinnati has now booked or hosted 15 of the top 25 multicultural conventions in the country, according to the trade publication Black Meetings & Tourism.
"The economics are one thing," said Julie Calvert, vice president of communications and strategic development for the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau. "But for us, with these multicultural conventions, it's more of the dialogue and what they represent. This speaks volumes about our city and our region's progress."
The convention and visitors bureau has focused on growing its multicultural conventions, rebuilding business that the city lost in the wake of the 2001 riots sparked by a white police officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.
The National Urban League, in fact, was supposed to hold its 2003 annual conference here but moved the meeting because of the riots.
Now it has become one of a number of big-name multicultural conventions that have come to Cincinnati as the city has worked to heal its racial divide.
"Not to say we don't still have more work to do because we do," Calvert said. "But having these groups come to Cincinnati is a validation and endorsement of the good work that's been done."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held its NAACP Youth Meeting and its annual meeting in 2008. That same year, the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. met here.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, held its national convention here in 2011, the same year the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles/Mystic Shrine held its national convention in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann said having the National Urban League's annual conference in town "indicates we have successfully put behind us so many of the issues that came to a boil in the riots of 2001."
"A lot has happened since '01, not just with police-community relations and the quality of our policing," he said. "Physically, the city has changed a lot, too."
Such a high-profile national conference gives the city an opportunity to show off those changes, said Cincinnati City Council member Yvette Simpson.
"Our city has turned a page," she said.
The National Urban League is one of the nation's oldest and most respected civil rights organizations, working to help African Americans achieve what the organization calls "economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights."
Its 25 national programs focus on education, job preparation and creation, housing and health.
The theme of this year's annual conference is "One Nation Underemployed: Bridges to Jobs and Justice." Two possible presidential candidates – Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul – both are scheduled to be at the event.
The national spotlight that is expected to follow Biden and Paul is bound to be good for the city, Simpson said.
And based on Cincinnati's winning track record with hosting conventions, the conference likely will lead other groups to choose Cincinnati, too, said Cincinnati Council member Christopher Smitherman.
Still, it's important for city leaders to realize that Greater Cincinnati has a long way to go when it comes to making sure all its residents have the opportunity to succeed, he said.
"My caution is, economically, we still have work to do in Cincinnati," said Smitherman, former president of the NAACP's Cincinnati chapter. "That is one of our last hurdles. How do we, in fairness, including everyone in the economic fabric? And I don't think we have put together that right fabric."
The National Urban League conference will begin with the State of the Urban League Address on Wednesday, July 23. Many sessions will be open to the public, including a career and networking fair. For a complete schedule of events and more information about the conference, go to the National Urban League website at http://conf2014.iamempowered.com .
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.