A Conversation with Marc Morial

Leadership Lessons and New Orleans Sports History with National Urban League President Marc Morial

On a recent livestream edition of “Listen In With KNN,” award-winning sports talk podcast and radio show, executive producer and host Kelsey Nicole Nelson sat down with National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial. The National Urban League is a nonpartisan historic civil rights organization headquartered in New York City that advocates on behalf of economic and social justice for African Americans and against racial discrimination in the United States.

In 2003, Morial was selected to head the National Urban League. In 2004, he added a new metric, the Equality Index, to the League’s annual State of Black America. He has written two non-fiction books, published speeches, authors a weekly newspaper column and a weekly newsletter, “ReMarcs” for the National Urban League.

Morial is married to CBS Saturday Morning co-host and CBS news journalist Michelle Miller, who just released a new book and is currently in the midst of a book tour. The book is tilted “Belonging: A Daughter’s Search for Identity Through Love and Loss,” which is featured on the New York Times best sellers list.

To begin this interview, Morial, a published author himself, discussed the process of writing his book “The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite, and Achieve” In discussing his book, Morial shared “the process [of book writing] was that I was challenged. I met a publisher, a Black woman who challenged me, [and] said you should write a book.” So the two met for a cup of coffee and with her support, she guided him through the process. Morial added, “she was getting me the help that I needed. She was helping me learn and understand what to do, and it was so important to doing this, and it’s an intimidating process, and it takes time, energy and effort. It takes help, and I want to underscore that. I had people helping me do it.” Morial added at the end of the day, his motivation was his desire to want to pay it forward with leadership lessons, the same way so many people took him under his wings, giving him words of encouragement and helping to open doors for him.

In addition to his work as an author, Morial also served as President of the United States Conference of Mayors in 2001, and as a Louisiana state senator from 1992 to 1994. He began his career as a lawyer in New Orleans, and in 1985 he established a private law practice there.

Morial elaborated on the “situational” leaders that have inspired him throughout his life. Morial said the first that came to mind for him were his coaches. Morial said, “my first love was sports. Rec league sports. We imagined that we were the Green Bay Packers. We imagined we were the New Orleans Saints. We were on the playground, and all the coaches were part-time coaches. Many of them were postal service employees. They would come to the park after they got off to work with us.” Morial continued to share fond memories of the caring adults in his life. Morial added, “They were role models. They were second fathers. They were big brothers, and enforcers. They were storytellers and teachers. Also, as I got older and got an interest in law as a profession, my father was a lawyer, and his friends were lawyers, and they became role models.” Morial shared that some of the younger lawyers and officials who he came in contact with became role models. Morial added, “I saw in them what I wanted to do.” Morial explained situational leadership is exactly what you see in sports everyday. Morial said, “The game is on the line, or it’s early in the game. Do you take a risk, or do you play it safe? Do you go to your money play? Situational leadership is rising to that occasion.”

Morial has had many opportunities to exhibit his leadership. Morial is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, and the University of Pennsylvania.At Georgetown, he was elected first-year delegate to the Student Bar Association and served as a member and head of fundraising for the National Black Law Students Association. After working during his third year in law school for the late U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland, he returned to New Orleans to join the firm Barham and Churchill.

Morial was involved in multiple leadership roles throughout his life. He shared how leadership evolves with all the different roles that he has held. Morial said, “I think people have to want to lead. And, to be able to lead, you have to know how to follow or be the team player. Because you may wear multiple hats.” He gave the example, in a family situation, you may not be the lead. For example, you may be the youngest. Family dynamics are interesting. Morial added, “but, in your work or career, you may be the leader. Or, you may be a person who plays the leadership role in the volunteer activities in your life. You may be the president of an association or club, but in the workspace, you’re not necessarily in a leadership position.” Morial described how we all have to wear multiple hats, depending on the role we play. He added “and understanding and learning how to play those roles is essential, I believe, in being a good leader,”

 As a Louisiana State Senator , Morial was Chairman of the Educational Institution Subcommittee; and member of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. He was the youngest person elected Mayor of New Orleans in 50 years and at the time, one of the youngest mayors of a major American city.

Another question Nelson had for Morial was how proud it made him to serve as a state senator for Louisiana, and as the mayor of New Orleans. Morial shared how New Orleans did something smart in the 1960’s deciding to build the Louisiana Superdome. Morial shared, “At the time, the Superdome was a vision beyond any vision for any state in the history of the world! Houston had built the Astrodome. The Governor of Louisiana went to Houston, and said I want a stadium big enough to put the Astrodome inside it! And, the Superdome was born.” Morial shared there was a debate on whether to put the stadium downtown, or on the outskirts but that placing the in downtown New Orleans won out. Morial added, “And then, ten years later, the convention center which my father’s name.”

Morial served as Chair of the Census Advisory Committee (2010), and as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability (2012-2015). He was also appointed to the Twenty-First Century Workforce Commission by President Bill Clinton (1998-2000). Leading the National Urban League, Morial has played a major role in shedding a light on the needs of Black America during the COVID-19 crisis. From partnering with universal brands like the National Basketball Association to advocating for a balanced recovery on Capitol Hill, Morial is driving change for families who need it the most.

 After touching on his background, the conversation shifted to some football talk. The conversation shifted to “Who Dat Nation” Morial and why football is so special to his hometown of New Orleans. Morial shared there’s a lot of reasons. Morial said, “I remember when the Saints were born. I remember attending the first game, as an 8 or 9-year-old, and New Orleans fought for a decade or so, to get professional football.” Speaking to the history of New Orleans football, Morial shared in the 1960’s there was a group of people who worked to get professional football. He shared one of the barriers to professional football was segregation. New Orleans had a city ordinance, which required seating in stadiums to be segregated. The National Football League was not going to put a team in a city with segregated seating, and that’s why football was so late, relatively speaking, to come to places like Atlanta and New Orleans, and even Dallas. Morial said, “but Saints culture represents the grit and the style of the city. But also the soul, and the rhythm of the city. That’s why people come to the games. They come dressed up, they come to party and they come to come to express themselves. It’s a special experience to go to a game.”

You can follow Marc Morial on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can listen to the full interview here:

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Nate Miller