NEW YORK, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- In years past, the Labor Day weekend was a time of easy celebration of Americans' work ethic and, simultaneously, the pursuit of that one last weekend of summer fun.
Now, and undoubtedly for our foreseeable future, the Labor Day weekend will also be a time when America prepares itself to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
We at the National Urban League headquarters count ourselves among those for whom the memories of what happened that bright-blue-sky day will always remain sharp.
Our national headquarters stand on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan less than a mile due east of where the World Trade Center stood. Our staff was engulfed in the maelstrom of incredible, unthinkable destruction and death here and at the Pentagon that changed the future of our country and the world.
I wrote last Sept. 13 in a column in this space that I agreed with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's frustration at trying to describe his emotions on touring the site in Somerset, Pa., where the passengers aboard one of the hijacked jetliners heroically forced it to crash.
"The dictionary is inadequate," he said. "There aren't enough words."
Nonetheless, words did help us cope with our grief. Words gave shape to the lives of those who were murdered, and even as that made their loss seem all the more tragic, it also reminded us of the value of human life.
Words inspired us, too; to build a better America from the ruins of the World Trade Center and that section of the Pentagon -- both in defiance of the miserable men who took so many lives and in homage to all those who perished.
The determination to go on, with our values not only intact but stronger, that is what Americans showed in the weeks after the attacks. In the we were supported by peoples around the globe.
Words from our political and religious leaders, and from ordinary folks also made it clear in those first weeks that America would indeed be lost unless it became more tolerant and more inclusive of diversity, not less; that the path out of the tragedy lay in building out of the country's many diverse elements a better, stronger, more unified American people.
There seemed to be a recognition then that this worthy sentiment had to be more than skin deep.
If one were keeping score of how well we are living up to those pledges made in the great tragedy's aftermath, what would the scorecard read?
There's no question that impressive gains have been made, which the Urban League has done its best to point out and celebrate.
There are those who cite the progress made as proof that blacks have caught up with whites, and that groups like the Urban League should back off, quit complaining, and stop pressing America to improve. Indeed, some surveys have found that nearly half of white Americans think the average black family is faring as well as whites.
Well, that is not so, as Franklin Raines, chairman of Fannie Mae and a National Urban League trustee has explained in an essay for our scholarly journal, The State of Black America 2002.
It's title is: "What Equality Would Look Like: Reflections on the Past, Present and Future," and it provides a wealth of statistics in easily-digestible prose that prove, albeit the progress, how great the "equality gap" between blacks and whites remains.
For one thing, Raines -- whose own ascension to the top of a giant corporation has often been cited as a marker of the great progress made -- states that if blacks as a group had achieved equal opportunity with whites, there would be 62 African-American chief executives of Fortune 500 companies, not the present four.
Ranies also says there would be 600,000 more black-owned businesses, generating nearly $3 trillion more in revenue.
If America had achieved racial equality in wealth, he writes, African Americans would have $760 billion more in home equity value, $200 billion more in the stock market, $120 billion more in their pension plans, and $80 billion more in the bank.
If America had achieved racial equality in housing, 3 million more black folk would own their own homes. If America had achieved racial equality in education and jobs, African Americans would have 2 million more high school degrees, 2 million more college degrees, 2 million more workers in high-paying professional and managerial jobs, $200 billion more in annual income per household, and in all likelihood, 700,000 fewer black adults behind bars, saving taxpayers the $15-billion cost of incarcerating them.
That is why Americans of all kinds must keep pressing the nation to, as the poet Langston Hughes wrote, "make America be America;" to, as Martin Luther King declared at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, compel the nation "to rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident ... "
When it comes to fostering equality and inclusion, there's no question that America far outstrips the rest of the world, but it still has a long way long way to go.
Hugh Price is president of the National Urban League, a civil rights organization.
"Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.