Bernice King Discusses Voting, Justice and Faith

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Donna M. Owens Sep, 17, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King delivered a powerful speech about voting, justice and faith during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s recent annual conference. She received the “Woman of Truth” award at a tribute to African American women leaders that honored the legacy of Sojourner Truth.

“It seems to be a troubling time, but it’s also a wonderful time. We’re on the precipice of a shift,” the attorney, minister and youngest offspring of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King told the audience. “There are things moving in the invisible realm repositioning things for our good. God still has his hands on us.”

The CEO of The King Center in Atlanta, delivered her remarks at the “Sojourner Truth Legacy Project” reception held last Thursday at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

ESSENCE was a media partner. The Ford Motor Company served as title sponsor for the eighth consecutive year. Pamela Alexander, director of Community Development for the Ford Fund, used the occasion to unveil the new “Ford Gives Back” (FGB.life) web platform; it will be dedicated to issues, social activism and charitable causes, relevant to the African-American community.

That dovetails with the Sojourner Truth Legacy Project, which is a collaboration between the CBC Foundation and the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. Launched in 2008 and led early on by then-Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, its mission includes leadership development, tackling key issues and promoting advancement for African American and multicultural, intergenerational women. The name of the initiative honors the legacy of the 19th Century abolitionist and suffragist.

King evoked the spirit of Sojourner Truth and her own Civil Rights lineage, while touting “truth” and “love” as powerful, transformative social and moral forces that can “right the course of this nation.”

She also urged the crowd to vote and stay “constantly engaged” in civic matters.

“We must go to the polls. We must take seriously our citizenship,” she said, sharing her mother’s words that each generation is called anew to defend freedom. “We can never sleep. We can never slumber.”

Voting was one of the themes stressed by A. Shuanise Washington, president/CEO of  CBCF and by African American women currently serving in Congress who took part in the celebration.

“We need to bring our Black men, our Black children to vote,” Washington said,

The group included Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) who leads the Sojourner Truth Legacy Project. Also in attendance: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) an honorary co-chair of the conference; Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE); and Terri Sewell (D-AL). William Lacy Clay (D-MO) stopped by to show his support.

Two other Black women were this year’s honorees.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) received the “CBC Woman of the Year” award; the veteran legislator generated national attention for being the lone member of Congress to oppose military action in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) received the “CBC Woman of Courage” award.

Wilson called out Donald Trump for purportedly making insensitive remarks (which he denied) in a phone call last year to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. The 25-year-old was one of four U.S. soldiers killed, officials have said, while on patrol in Niger back in Oct. 2017.

Wilson, who reportedly received death threats for her stance as well as support, praised the strength of the Black woman who “carries everyone on our shoulders.”

The reception was one of two events during the 48th annual conference that paid homage to Sojourner Truth.

The Sojourner Truth Legacy Project Town Hall took place last Wednesday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center before a packed room. Prudential was the sponsor; ESSENCE was a media partner.

Part one of the forum featured a so-called “Fireside Chat” between Rep. Sewell and Senator Doug Jones, moderated by lawyer and CNN political analyst Angela Rye.

The Alabama Democrat won a special election last December, largely on the strength of Black women voters.  “If we can do it in Alabama, we can do it all across this nation,” Sewell said.

Jones acknowledged his gratitude to women during the sit-down. However, there’s concern simmering among some Black politicos because Jones is still reportedly undecided as to whether or not he’ll vote to confirm conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

The second session was a dynamic panel discussion moderated by Stefanie Brown James (Barack Obama’s 2012 National Black Vote Director) that focused on harnessing Black women’s power and influence on the ballot.

In this group: Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights, which works to elect Black women; political strategist Karen Finney; State Representative Karen Camper of Tennessee; and Karine Jean-Pierre, a senior advisor at the progressive PAC, MoveOn.org.

The take-away? More emphasis on voting, including getting more Millennials to the polls, as well as donating money to candidates. “We need to lead and let majority money follow us vs. trying to follow majority money,” said Carr. “The paradigm is going to shift because the research shows across the board Black women are the best return on investments both at the polls and on the ballot.”

Said Rep. Clarke to the crowd, “We have the power to change our own dynamics in our community with our vote,” she said. “Understanding, harnessing and unleashing our power is the key. Where have you unleashed yours?” she asked.