Date: Feature Week of
August 29, 2004
ARE BLACK LEADERS JUST FOLLOWERS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT?
Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. – Congressman William Clay, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The second week of September over 30,000 of the most influential blacks in America will gather in Washington, D.C. for the 34th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF). The theme is “Defining the Moment and The Movement” and is promoted as “a call to action” for the Foundation’s constituency to recommit themselves to the challenges of uplifting their communities.
The Annual Legislative Conference is considered the premier African American conference on policy issues. Presenters say it provides a platform for the 39 African American Members of Congress “to share the progress of their work on legislative items and allow for the exchange of ideas correlated to policy issues of concern to their constituents”. The Conferences are normally attended by politicians, elected officials and other leadership types from across the country. The ALC is comprised of issue forums, an exhibition hall, a National Town Hall meeting, a Job Fair and numerous social activities. CBC members host events that include an Awards Dinner, Prayer Breakfast, Jazz and Benefit concerts, Gospel Extravaganza and Fashion Show to generate revenues that support education and leadership programs. The conference is a $250 million boon to Washington’s tourism economy and helps the CBCF generate over $37 million each year for its programs.
Whether they are effective or not, black representation in Congress is at its zenith. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the 20th century, just 22 African Americans were elected to the U.S. Congress. After Republican George Henry White of North Carolina left Congress in 1901, no African American was elected to Congress until Republican Oscar De Priest came from Illinois in 1928. The Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1970 when 13 members joined together to strengthen their efforts in addressing legislative concerns of blacks. They believed that a Black Caucus, speaking with a single voice, would provide political influence and visibility far beyond their numbers.
Today, CBC members say the Conference “provides a national forum to develop strategies and viable solutions to public policy issues facing Black America”. But, many blacks say the Week-End is just a big party, with no purpose. New Orleans Congressman William J. Jefferson says: “We urge all of our constituents to take advantage of this unique opportunity to interact with policy makers and influence the decisions most important in their lives.”
The CBCF has invited speakers that include: Illinois State Senator and Democratic Party nominee to the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama; Dr. David Satcher, President of Morehouse School of Medicine; actor/activist Danny Glover; media mogul Russell Simmons of the “Hip Hop Action Network; actor/author Bill Cosby, former US Ambassador Andrew Young, and actor, Jamie Foxx. There are sessions skewed for young people called: The Black Party: An Emerging Leaders Affair, and a Hip Hop Team Voter Registration Rally. Both events are designed to increase the sense of civic responsibility among young people.
CBCF President Weldon J. Rougeau says “The organization is focused on its strategic role as an information broker and developer of strategic partnerships.” And, that the CBCF has three major programs to address education and economic development for blacks: The Congressional Intern and Fellow Programs allow young people to work in government offices and on Capitol Hill, and the “With Ownership, Wealth” (WOW) Initiative, and “Student Homeownership Opportunity Program” (SHOP) are both dedicated to building wealth through homeownership.
The visions and goals of the original 13 Members, "to promote the public welfare through legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens," have yet to be realized by the majority of African Americans. Actually, in the 34 years since its founding Caucus Members have had more success in becoming part of “the establishment” than have their constituents? Thought repeated re-elections, CBC members been more successful in rising to strategic positions on House Committees than raising living standards for their constituents. African Americans who will not be attending the ALC question just how successful CBC members have been in promoting a broad black agenda in federal and local policies. Many say that Black Caucus members have failed to form significant socio-economic and political infra-structures within communities they serve and indicate little interest to put such in place. People attending the ALC should ask CBC members how they are representing black interests and supporting John Kerry without demanding a mandate of a Black Agenda from him? In summary, is it true that instead of pushing for a unified black-oriented agenda, have black political leaders set themselves up as liaisons and middle-men using their constituents’ support and numbers as cattle counts to further their own agendas?
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