By Lauren Poteat NNPA Washington Correspondent
Determined to make an aggressive difference in the midst of a very challenging political climate, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), gears up for their 48th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC), with the deliberate theme “The Dream Still Demands: Courage, Resilience, Leadership and Legislation.”
Succeeding the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his iconic 1963 speech, “I Have A Dream,” Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D–TX 18th District), chairman of the CBCF, shared her vision for this year’s conference and the hope that though the war on discrimination has not yet been won, those in attendance will realize—”the Dream” still carries on.
“A lot of where we are now as a country is a direct reflection of this year’s theme,” Congresswoman Lee said. “When you look at the political land-scape of America—people being denied passports, Hispanic children being torn away from their mothers and citizens being twisted off of the voter path, it is important that we let people know that Dr. King’s dream is still alive.”
“If you look at the backdrop of this year’s ALC design, it emphasizes patriotism, African Americans, people of color, members of the Black Caucus,” Lee continued. “What was ‘the Dream’ about? In the 21st century, are we all seen as equal? And the Emancipation Proclamation?… There is no power without struggle and the CBC serves as no better place to consult, converse and be challenged to define that power.”
Serving as the leading policy conference, the varied sessions, set to run from Sep. 12-16, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, located in northwest D.C., will focus on issues impacting Black Americans and the global Black community.
Hot button topics at the center of the convention include immigration, civil and social justice, economic equity, education, technology and criminal justice reform—an issue Congresswoman Lee hopes to take “complete overhaul” of.
As people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death, at higher rates than their white counterparts, including Black youth, who also face higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison, Congresswoman Lee insists, that prison reform is a mandatory now.
“How can you deny someone basic human rights such as housing, jobs or the right to vote, after being released from prison?” Lee said. “Children should not be locked up. Prisoners should have an opportunity to successfully integrate back into society and non-violent misdemeanors should be granted shorter sentences.”
In an alarming study done by americanprogress.org, it was reported that while Black Americans only account for 30 percent of the U.S. population, every year they engulf over 60 percent of the entire prison populace.
The study also revealed that 1 in every 15 Black American men will be incarcerated every year, compared to 1 in every 106 white men, a statistic that Congresswoman Lee asserts, can be combated with active voting.
“I am deeply troubled when I hear people say—particularly millennials, that their votes do not matter,” Lee said. “Look around you. You are the future change makers. People like Barack Obama, Barbra Jordan, Nelson Mandela, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Shirley Chisholm, laid down the foundations for you. Now it is your turn to stomp on that dirt and build up your nation and VOTING is one of the main instruments to do just that.”
For the first time in the foundation’s history, two senators — Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-California) — will serve as honorary co-chairs for the 48th ALC, which had historically, been chaired by members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
With more than 10,000 people expected to be attendance, engaged in networking and special events including the Exhibit Showcase with an on-site employment fair and free health screenings; the Prayer Breakfast; National Town Hall; Gospel Extravaganza; the Annual Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts (which honors the contributions of individuals in the performing and visual arts who have influenced our history and inspired generations) and the auspicious Phoenix Awards Dinner (which supports the CBCF’s mission-critical programs including education, economic development, health and research),” Lee hopes that individuals will leave believing that they can be “the Dream” that they want to see, especially among millennials.
“The CBCF works so hard and is so valuable to many,” Lee said. “We are not just a policy organization, but one that also focuses on leadership… Leadership for millennials, so that as they come through this world, they might also have access to power.”
“From the tone of the presidential campaign, to where the Klu Klux Klan makes their appearances regularly, to the deportation of hundreds of immigrants, to the ban on Muslims, to the children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border—that is where the CBC steps in.”
“We come to the CBC to hear legislative next steps, advocacy and the benefit of thinking. We understand King’s dream and we appreciate the shoulders of the slaves, on which we stand. We are grounded in our history and appreciate the past, so that our children and our children’s children, might have a brighter future. This is an event you cannot afford to miss, as we leave you with a tool box to face the struggles of everyday society.”