The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation wrapped its 46th annual legislative conference in the nation’s capital on Sunday, following nearly a week of policy sessions, star power and a presidential speech that stressed the importance of the African-American vote.
The confab drew about 9,000 attendees as members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Capitol Hill insiders, national experts and influencers engaged in more than 100 policy forums.
Companion events included a health fair, author’s pavilion, prayer breakfast, and a celebrity-studded celebration of the arts that raised funds for scholarships.
"During this milestone 40th anniversary we are proud of the work we accomplished this year, and of our conference,” said A. Shuanise Washington, president/CEO of the CBCF, a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does public policy, research and education.
“We tackled the importance of voting rights, explored criminal justice reform, examined solutions to improve educational opportunities, and honored giants whose contributions paved the way for African-Americans and so much more.”
Black women helped organize and lead the yearly gathering, whose theme was “Defining the Moment, Building the Movement.”
Events ranged from a panel hosted by Congresswoman Maxine Waters that focused on finding policy solutions between the community, the Black Lives Matter movement and law enforcement, to a forum about improving Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.
“As an HBCU alum and former educator, hosting this important discussion was a deep personal honor," said Congresswoman Alma S. Adams, who served as an honorary host for the panel. “Too often, we talk about what HBCUs need to do to survive, but we must expand the conversation to ensure that HBCUs have the resources needed to thrive.” There were several events specifically geared towards African-American women.
Among them was a town hall on ‘Black Women and Girls in American Media: Overcoming Biases and Boundaries,’ co-hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, and the Sojourner Truth Legacy Project (STLP). White House senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, and Essence Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa DeLuca, who served as a panelist, joined hundreds of community leaders, officials, mothers and daughters for a wide-ranging discussion about societal images of Black women and girls.
The day included a screening of The Souls of Black Girls, a documentary from producer Daphne Valerius about ways to overcome gender and color-based biases and boundaries.
Another popular event was a panel that focused on leveraging the ‘Power of the Sister Vote’ in the forthcoming November election.
Topics of discussion included results of the second annual ESSENCE/Black Women’s Roundtable ‘Power of the Sister Vote’ 2016 poll, which explores issues and policy priorities that many Black women say they want the next President and Congress to address. “As we face the final leg of the U.S. presidential race, the stakes for Black women, our families and our community have never been higher,” said Essence Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa De Luca.
Janaye Ingram, a D.C. based political consultant who served as a panelist, echoed that sentiment.
"Black women have been a critical voting bloc for some time, but in the last two elections, black women voted at a higher rate than all other demographic groups,” Ingram, who previously served in a leadership capacity at the National Action Network, said.
“At the same time, we haven't always felt like our issues are given the same consideration. In this critical election year, we must create a comprehensive strategy to fully leverage our political power beyond the ballot box in order to experience real impact in our communities and in our homes." The conference drew a mix of Baby Boomers to Millennials, college students to celebrities. Icons such as Cicely Tyson, Dionne Warwick and Richard Roundtree were honored, along with actor Chadwick Boseman, while Hill Harper, Malinda Williams, Terrence J., and Malik Yoba participated in various sessions and forums.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were special guests as they've been in previous years at the Phoenix Awards dinner on Saturday, the signature event of the conference. The black tie soiree was co-hosted by Kelly Rowland and comedian Trevor Noah. This year’s honorees included Ohio Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, retiring New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, and Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who received a Trailblazer award for the historic nature of her candidacy.
The former Secretary of State praised Obama as “one of the best presidents this country has ever had,” saying that he, his wife and two daughters have represented America with “class, grace and integrity.” Indeed, the crowd was clearly excited about the Obamas. Women in ball gowns and men in tuxedoes snapped cell phone photos and applauded frequently as the nation’s first Black Commander in Chief spoke for nearly 30 minutes.
Obama joked about the birther controversy that Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, recently acknowledged wasn’t true; thanked his base for their support and prayers, and reflected on the state of the union. “Together, we fought our way back from the worst recession in 80 years, turned an economy that was in free fall, helped our businesses create more than 15 million new jobs. We declared that health care is not a privilege for a few, but a right for everybody, secured coverage for another 20 million Americans, including another three million African Americans.”
“Our high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, including for African-American students,” the president continued. “More African-Americans are graduating from college than ever before.” Obama turned fiery when speaking about November’s presidential election and the power of the Black vote.
“There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters,” he said. “And after we have achieved historic turnout in 2008 and 2012, especially in the African-American community, I will consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy, if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election.” Washington said the president’s remarks underscored the importance of the conference. “We were also inspired by President Obama, who issued an important call to action -- one that we, as an organization, firmly support -- and that is, for our community to stand on America's promise. That is our right and most powerful civic duty -- our vote."