Marc H. Morial has been described as a national leader with the rare combination of “street smarts” and “boardroom savvy.”

He launched his first business venture at age 15, served as Louisiana state senator, worked as a New Orleans lawyer and then as the city’s mayor during the devastation and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. 

And since 2003, Morial has served as president and CEO of the National Urban League (NUL), where he is credited with transforming the nation’s largest historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization dedicated to economic empowerment, equality and social justice. 

Morial, who is considered a leading voice on the national stage in the battle for jobs, education, housing and voting-rights equity, brings his wide-ranging, extensive background and life experience as Case Western Reserve University’s convocation speaker on May 30. With uncertainties of the pandemic, his remarks will be delivered as a pre-recorded message to the 2021 graduating class. Morial also will receive an Honorary Degree during commencement ceremonies.

“Marc Morial’s eloquence and inclusive spirit inspired a renaissance in New Orleans and has helped advance Black Americans in communities around the country,” Interim President Scott Cowen said. “Our graduates will benefit enormously from his observations and insights about advocating for civil rights and economic opportunities throughout his many leadership roles.”

As NUL president, Morial’s creativity has expanded the organization’s “empowerment” mission to help close the economic gap between whites and Blacks as well as rich and poor Americans.

Specifically, his leadership has resulted in such initiatives as the Urban Youth Empowerment Program to assist young adults in securing sustainable jobs, and Entrepreneurship Centers in five cities to help small businesses grow. He also created the NUL Empowerment Fund, which has injected nearly $200 million into minority business through debt and equity investments.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics and African American Studies, Morial, a history, arts, music and sports enthusiast, also holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., as well as honorary degrees from Xavier University of Louisiana, Wilberforce University and the University of South Carolina Upstate.

He has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans by Ebony magazine, one of the top 50 Nonprofit Executives by The NonProfit Times, one of the 100 Most Influential Black Lawyers in America and was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.

He serves as an executive committee member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Black Leadership Forum and Leadership 18, and is a board member of the Muhammad Ali Center and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Morial served two terms as mayor of New Orleans, from 1994 to 2002, during which time the city won the All-American City Award in 1996 and the City Livability Award. He served as a Louisiana state senator from 1992 to 1994.

He also wrote a collection of lessons on the power of uniting people from all backgrounds for a common cause, called The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite, and Achieve. The book was based on his New Orleans mayoral race, when he christened the city’s rich mixture of African Americans, whites, Latinos, Asians, business leaders, grassroots community activists, clergy and more the “Gumbo Coalition.” He cited the ability for various cultures and interests to come together to reduce crime and rebuild the city’s reputation by attracting an NBA franchise, multiple Super Bowls and the Essence Festival, the largest African American event in the nation.

Morial’s rich blend of life experiences might also be described as a bit of a gumbo. In addition to high-profile public service, he worked as:

  • An entrepreneur, who started an apparel wholesale company, a special events company and a janitorial company at age 15 with two childhood friends.
  • A lawyer, who won the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for his legal service to the poor and disadvantaged. At 26, he was also among the youngest lawyers to argue and win a major case before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
  • And an adjunct professor at  Xavier University of Louisiana, where he taught constitutional law and business law.

For more information, contact Bill Lubinger at william.lubinger@case.edu.

This article was originally published April 7, 2021.