The Black Lives Matter movement should not be misinterpreted: All lives matter, said Marc Morial, chief executive of the National Urban League.
"I hope people would not get caught in terminology and understand why we say that. We say it because we want all lives to matter," Morial told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday, as the civil rights organization kicked off its annual conference in Baltimore.
"But historically," he continued, "black lives have not had the same value, if you look at the type of challenges that we face in the country."
According to its website, Black Lives Matter started in the summer of 2013 after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.
"We reaffirm the value of every life. But we rally behind this idea of 'Black Lives Matter' because we need a focus on racial justice in this country," Morial said, citing what he calls disparities in criminal justice, in voting and in the economy.
"While some people may not be comfortable with that, I really believe [that] in 21st century America, as we change as a nation, we've got to make leveling the playing field key to everything we do," he added.
Critics of Black Lives Matter often call for the use of alternative phrases, including "all lives matter" and "blue lives matter," referencing fallen police officers.
The racial divisions facing the nation are borne in part out of a frustration about "economic stagnation," said Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans.
"The average American … [is] going through some very difficult and challenging times in this post-recession America. I think that that causes people to look to blame someone," he said.
"We've got to confront our racial injustice. But we've also got to grow our economy. And we've got to create a job ... framework that's going to benefit all Americans," Morial said, adding that these were themes set for discussion at his nonpartisan group's conference.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's campaign organization declined the group's speaking invitation, Morial said.
As for the Hillary Clinton campaign, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, a U.S. senator from Virginia, agreed to speak at the conference Thursday.
Last month, Morial told CNBC he condemns the "cycle of violence" facing the nation, following the deaths of African-Americans during confrontations with law enforcers and fatal retaliatory attacks on police.