Upwards of 10,000 politicians, thought leaders, activists, community and faith leaders, celebrities and various stakeholders are expected in the nation’s capital this week for a longstanding political and social ritual: the annual Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) whirlwind.
Wednesday, leaders of the Caucus and the nonprofit Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) officially kicked off the 47th Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
This year’s theme—“And Still I RISE”—is a nod to the famous Maya Angelou poem, and according to organizers, “reflects a legacy of resilience that emphasizes the collective strength of the Black community to rise above continued racial inequalities.”
The 2017 confab, for which Reps. Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Marc Veasey (D-TX) serve as honorary co-chairs, will feature dozens of forums and brain-trusts aimed at tackling public policy issues that impact the nation’s 46 million African Americans, as well as the global Black diaspora.
Sessions will center around core CBCF pillars: education, health/ wellness, economic empowerment and the environment, while also tackling topics that include voting and civil rights, civic engagement, foreign affairs, national security, eliminating poverty and more.
The conference comes at a time when America’s 45th President, Donald Trump and his administration have attacked voting rights, affirmative action and LGBTQ equality. Detractors also lament increased anti-Muslim/ anti-immigrant sentiment and a rise in white nationalism.
“We recognize the importance of economic, social, cultural and environmental determinants and the potentially deleterious effects on African American communities nationwide,” said CBCF president and CEO A. Shuanise Washington. She described the conference as “a central platform” to address the challenging realities facing African Americans by fostering debate, innovative thinking and forging consensus on ways forward for those who historically have not been well served in our communities.”
The CBC was established in 1971 and has 49 members in the current 115th Congress, including one Republican member and two U.S. Senators. Congressman Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA) serves as caucus chairman.
The CBCF, which dates to 1976, is a non-partisan, public policy, research and educational institute, whose mission is to advance the needs of the global Black community by developing leaders, informing policy and educating the public.
To that end, conference events will include a National Town Hall focused on ‘Fighting the Systemic Destruction of our Civil Rights” and an array of panel discussions.
They include “The Crisis of Domestic Violence and Mass Incarceration Amongst Women of Color and Juvenile Justice Reform” with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) and Val Demings (D-FL); an HBCU Braintrust with Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC); and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and guests will tackle “The Danger of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Era of the Trump Administration.”
Rep. Keith Ellison will host a panel about the importance of centering Black women in national conversations about economic equity in America.
The National Urban League will welcome elected officials to strategists for the “State of Black America and the Plan to Propel Us Forward” while the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies — a Black think tank—will hold two “innovation” sessions with Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Lisa Blount Rochester (DE) on smart cities, technology, entrepreneurship and how the workforce of the future will impact African Americans.
Once again, the Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR) will hold its Annual Public Policy Forum in partnership with ESSENCE.
Of particular interest will be the long-awaited release and discussion of results from the 3rd annual BWR/ESSENCE “Power of the Sister Vote” poll. According to the creators of this year’s survey, the goal was to “collect feedback from Black women on their political outlook and the issues they consider important to their community,” and to “voice their opinion on the Trump presidency and share what they want the 45th president and the 115th Congress to address.”
Melanie Campbell, President of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable said, “We found this survey to be quite revealing, regarding the shift in the attitudes Black women have toward the current political environment. These results may well be a ‘wake-up call’ for our mainstream political parties and the folks currently holding office.”
ESSENCE editor-in-chief Vanessa De Luca shared, “This year’s poll provides a unique opportunity for the ESSENCE community to not only reveal what Black women’s top three priority issues are, but also express their willingness to increase their activism. I believe the results of this year’s poll will be eye opening.”
In addition to an in-depth discussion about the BWR/ESSENCE survey, the Policy Forum will feature three intergenerational roundtable discussions highlighting Black women that are leading the way to shift and expand their political, economic and social justice power for themselves, families and communities. There will also be an update on Hurricanes Harvey/Irma disaster relief and recovery. Roundtable speakers and celebrity guests include: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Hip Hop Artist McLyte and several other dynamic Black women leaders.
Other events on tap at the conference include a Prayer Breakfast headlined by gospel artist Shirley Caesar and speaker Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. The Annual Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts, with Spike Lee, Yolanda Adams and Tichina Arnold among the headliners.
A flurry of parties, luncheons and special events will take place in local (off site) venues. Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, will host an intimate conversation called EmpowerHER which is designed to support and uplift women entrepreneurs who are launching or growing their own ventures to improve the lives of others. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel into space, will be the featured guest.
“[We] are thrilled to share in the celebration of female leaders who have paved the way for women to reach their dreams,” said Pamela Alexander, director of community development, Ford Fund.
Exhibits and special events include an on-site employment fair, author pavilion and free health screenings. The conference culminating event, the black-tie Phoenix Awards Dinner, supports the foundation’s fellowship, internship, scholarship and research programs and efforts to eliminate disparities in the African-American community.
Jackson Lee, Chair of the CBCF Board of Directors, said the conference would serve to increase “knowledge regarding the challenging issues facing the African American community; and as well, motivate you to take action. None of us can afford to miss this year’s conference and we look forward to seeing you there to prepare for confronting the serious issues of our day.”