Baltimore is scheduled to host the National Urban League conference in August, but the host committee must raise $1.5 million by early April to pay for various events associated with the conference.
During the announcement of host committee members Monday, Kim Horn, president of Kaiser Permanente (Mid-Atlantic) and committee co-chair, said about 30 percent of those funds have already been raised. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. CEO Calvin Butler is serving as the host committee’s other co-chair.
Horn said most cities have two to three years to prepare to host this conference, but Baltimore was selected by the National Urban League board on short notice so the city could showcase itself in a positive light following April’s riots. The city received a massive wave of negative publicity after violence broke out in the streets following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake expressed optimism the committee will raise the money and that local foundations and corporations will step up with contributions. The National Urban League conference is expected to attract between 10,000 and 15,000 attendees, it’s expected 6,000 hotel rooms will be booked and the conference will provide a local economic impact of $4.2 million.
“We’ve had conference before, but this is different … it’s about empowering our community,” Rawlings-Blake said.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the conference gives the city a chance to show it can rebound from April’s riots, as it did from The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and the 1968 riots that erupted following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is going to be a shot in the arm to the city financially,” Young said.
The National Urban League is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country. It announced it would hold its conference in Baltimore last August. At the time, landing the conference was viewed as a major boon to a city that had struggled following the riots.
In October, the National Urban League also announced that it was using a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to create an Entrepreneurship Center Program with the Greater Baltimore Urban League. That center will be named in honor of in honor of Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., the late Parks Sausage Co. chief executive officer.
The 2016 National Urban League conference could also have a higher than usual profile because it falls in a presidential election year. Rep. Elijah Cummings, an honorary member of the host committee, said he expects the presidential nominees from both major parties will attend. In 2012, President Barack Obama addressed the conference in New Orleans. Republican nominee Mitt Romney was invited but did not attend.
“Things like this conference can only make us better,” Cummings said.