Photography By Earl Gibson III
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Black leaders gathered this week to discuss the criminal justice system, domestic violence and economic empowerment. But Black joy and fellowship also graced the agenda.

Donna Owens
Sep, 22, 2017

From Black power and Black pain, to Black money and #Black Girl Magic, the packed agenda of the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) conference continues in the nation’s capital this week.

Thousands of legislators, influencers, civic leaders, clergy, activists and celebrities are attending sessions and brain trusts led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) during the 47th Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Dozens of related events—forums, receptions, movie screenings and such—are also being held at various venues around town.

On Thursday morning, dozens of well-heeled women (and a few men) gathered for a packed power brunch sponsored by ESSENCE and STARZ, the network behind the hit TV series Power.  The lively gathering at Acadiana restaurant was moderated by ESSENCE entertainment editor, Cori Murray, and featured actress Tichina Arnold, political analyst Symone Sanders and Mignon Clyburn, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The multi-generational panel weighed in on topical issues: women’s empowerment in the workplace, social media influence and discretion, self-care and more. 

Later in the day, a decidedly more sobering assembly got underway: “The Crisis of Domestic Violence and Mass Incarceration Amongst Women of Color and Juvenile Reform.” The panel was hosted by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) in tandem with 'Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community,' which receives funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As Melissa Harris Perry guided the discussion, a standing-room only crowd heard harrowing first-person accounts from survivors of domestic violence, formerly incarcerated individuals and advocates.

Among the participants was Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother who made headlines after receiving a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for a 2010 shooting incident involving her former husband. Alexander, who was pregnant at the time, alleged he beat her and she filed a warning shot; after serving time in jail public outrage helped secure her freedom.

Others on the panel included Ramona Brant, who after 21 years in prison on a minor drug charge was granted clemency by President Barack Obama in 2016.

The mothers of Eric Garner (the New York man choked to death by police) and Jordan Davis (who was playing music when shot to death by a fellow motorist) were also acknowledged.

The conversation ran the gamut from how to bring more resources to women suffering at the hands of abusers, to ensuring juveniles don’t wind up in the penal justice system and how to provide critical safeguards when they do.  

“We’re here to save lives,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who spoke of legislative efforts and aims around the issues. Jackson Lee, Chair of the CBCF Board of Directors, also shared with audience members that she was busy tackling matters related to Hurricane Harvey and its devastating impact on her state.

This convention year’s theme—“And Still I RISE”—is a nod to the famous Maya Angelou poem. According to organizers, it “reflects a legacy of resilience that emphasizes the collective strength of the Black community to rise above continued racial inequalities.”

Sessions are centering 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.

To that end, Rep. Maxine Waters and the CBC Foundation unveiled on Thursday Nielsen's newly released African-American Consumer Report that sheds new insights on the economic power of Black women in the U.S.

In Nielsen's 'Diverse Intelligence Series’ report, the global performance management company paints a portrait of Black women as trendsetters, brand loyalists and early adopters who care about projecting a positive self-image. They are playing an increasingly vital role in how all women see themselves and influencing mainstream culture across a number of areas, including fashion, beauty, television and music.

Young, independent and 24.3 million strong, Black women comprise 14 percent of all U.S. women and 52 percent of all African-Americans. Relatively young with an average age of 35.1 years (versus 42.8 for non-Hispanic White women and 39.4 for all women), they have enjoyed steady growth in population, incomes and educational attainment. Sixty-four percent enroll in college right out of high school and 23 percent over age 25 have a bachelor's degree or higher (up from 2005).

"Black women have strong life-affirming values that spill over into everything they do. The celebration of their power and beauty is reflected in what they buy, watch and listen to, and people outside their communities find it inspiring," said Cheryl Grace, Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, Nielsen. "Understanding how Black women's values affect their buying decisions has long been a marketing necessity. Now, marketers must also recognize the intercultural influence of Black women on the general market as an increasingly vital part of how all women see themselves, their families and the rest of the world."

Conference attendees enjoyed events well into the evening with soirees such as the Sojourner Truth Women’s Leadership Reception. The reception featured an exclusive performance by Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi. The gathering takes place at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The reception supported the Sojourner Truth Legacy Project, an initiative of the CBCF to support and develop leadership skills for African American women. It honors the legacy of strength, service and perseverance of abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who continues to inspire new generations of women.

Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm for Ford Motor Company, continued its sponsorship of the splashy affair, which honored astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman with the Woman of Truth award. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was presented with the Woman of the Year award by colleagues.

Events slated for Friday at the convention include panels with Sean 'Diddy’ Combs about the economic power of hip-hop, and a session with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that will feature experts from the judiciary, law enforcement, and the advocacy community to provide an overview of the continuing challenges in juvenile justice, drug and sentencing policy reform efforts.