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Black news events of 2013: Triumphs and Tragedies

On January 13, 2014

  • Many celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this year. Na’Tasha Jones/Howard University

By Marc H. Morial

( - As the sun has set over a tumultuous 2013 and rises over the promise of a brighter new year, here is our list of the top 10 events that have particularly affected African Americans and communities of color over the past 12 months. This list is a mix of triumphs and tragedies that mark the progress we've made, highlight the problems that still plague us, and point the way forward in 2014.
Voting Rights/Voter Suppression 
Despite an unprecedented outbreak of voter suppression efforts across the nation and the Supreme Court's appalling ruling in June that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, African Americans are going to the polls in record numbers. In fact, Black voters were decisive in ensuring the second inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20th. African-American voter turnout in the presidential election surpassed White voter turnout for the first time in history.
George Zimmerman Acquittal
African Americans and people of goodwill throughout the nation were stunned by the July 13 not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old high school student on February 26, 2012.
March on Washington 50th Anniversary
In August, the National Urban League joined thousands of citizens in a return pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial and the new Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to commemorate to march for economic power and justice, and to call for a continuation of the work that remains undone.
Affordable Care Act
While start-up problems have plagued the roll-out, the new law expands access to affordable health care to more than 30 million people, including 6.8 million African Americans who make up the largest share of the uninsured.
A New York District Court Judge ruled that the New York City police department's stop-and-frisk program, which disproportionately targets African Americans and Latinos, was unconstitutional. An appeals court subsequently overturned that ruling. Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to make changes in the policy - which is practiced in communities across the country - and has appointed a new police commissioner. The New York State Attorney General launched an investigation into security practices at a few retailers after at least four customers claimed they were unfairly targeted for police action while shopping.
Government Shutdown/Effects of Sequestration
The across-the-board "sequestration" budget cuts that went into effect this year slashed funding for Head Start, youth job training, long-term unemployment benefits and other critical human service and safety net programs. The 17-day Government Shutdown in October also had an out-sized impact on African Americans who make up a large share of the Federal workforce.
African American Leaders Convening (AALC)/Release of the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom
In August at the National Urban League's "Redeem the Dream" Summit, national civil rights leaders joined together - for the first time - for an historic release of a policy agenda addressing five urgent domestic goals for the nation: jobs and the economy; healthcare; education; voting rights; and criminal justice system reform.
Rise of Economic Inequality
While the richest one-percent have seen their incomes rise astronomically over the past 20 years, millions of middle-class and low-wage workers are falling into poverty and struggling to make ends meet. This phenomenon worsened in the wake of the recession - and has only widened through the recovery. This year, Pope Francis, President Obama and a growing number of economists sounded the alarm.
Death of Nelson Mandela
In December, the world lost one of the greatest champions for freedom, justice and peace ever to walk this Earth. After 27 years of political imprisonment as a leader in the fight against apartheid, Mandela was released from prison in 1990. In 1994, he became South Africa's first democratically elected president. His leadership was marked by his constant reliance on forgiveness, reconciliation and unity in the building of a new South Africa.
Banner Year for Black Films
his year was a notable one for Black films ranging from the true event-inspired stories of the "The Butler," "12 Years a Slave," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and "Fruitvale Station" to the highly anticipated "Best Man Holiday" and holiday classic "Black Nativity."
Marc Morial is President/CEO of the National Urban League. 

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