October 2016

EMPOWERMENT DAY: The Realities of Racism

41st Annual Celebration Starts Conversations on #OpportunityForALL

  • More African American adults are under correctional control today than there were slaves before the Civil War.
  • Twenty-two percent of the Franklin County population is African American, yet 73% of families served in homeless shelters in Franklin County are African American.
  • African Americans represent more than 44% of unemployed adults receiving cash assistance.

These facts were among the many often unspoken realities of racism highlighted by a panel of experts at the Columbus Urban League’s annual Empowerment Day luncheon, the signature annual event for Central Ohio’s oldest and most successful family advocate.

Led by moderator Jeff Johnson, a radio and television commentator, the panel, which included author, activist and legal scholar Michelle Alexander, Community Shelter Board President Michelle Heritage and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Cynthia Dungey, tackled key issues around criminal justice, homelessness and economic opportunity.

“This is not about pointing fingers, passing judgment or shaming anyone for failing to see and understand a quiet tragedy,” said Columbus Urban League President & CEO Stephanie Hightower. “What we seek is not condemnation, but collaboration and collective action.”

During the event, Hightower and Heritage announced Columbus is joining the Center for Social Innovation’s ten-city project on racism and homelessness. Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) will include data analysis, training and focused conversations in 10 communities across the United States. The result will be a plan for anti-racist initiatives and strategies for our community to implement over the next year. Led by the Shelter Board, community partners, including CUL and researchers from the Center for Social Innovation, will launch this critical community conversation on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the King Arts Complex, starting at 4:30 (email for more information).

Hightower said the SPARC conversation will be just one of many that CUL will participate or take the lead in facilitating in the coming year – all culminating with Empowerment Day 2017. Community members interested in participating or learning more can sign up at

Along with the panel discussion, Empowerment Day also celebrated noteworthy organizations and individuals who champion the principles of equal opportunity, civil rights and social justice, including this year’s recipient of the Honda Award of Excellence, U.S. District Judge Algenon “Monte” Marbley.

In addition to his notable legal career, which now extends to nearly 20 years on the federal bench and includes a deep commitment to justice, including on critical issues like voting rights, Judge Marbley has given selflessly of his time and talent to Central Ohio, serving on the boards of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Knowledge is Power (KIPP) Charter School, The Martin Luther King Performing and Cultural Arts Complex, First Tee of Columbus, the African American Leadership Academy, Racial Fairness Implementation Task Force and Salesian Boys and Girls Club — just to name a few.

To learn more about Empowerment Day, and to sign up for the ongoing community conversations please visit