October 4, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 8
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Star power ‘unleashed’ at Black Caucus conference

Victor Kakulu

WASHINGTON — Convened under the theme “Unleashing Our Power,” last week’s 37th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) at the Washington Convention Center looked to accomplish that mission in two ways: by celebrating the accomplishments of the unprecedented number of CBC members now leading congressional committees, and by leveling a challenge at the thousands of legislators, celebrities and citizens in attendance to use their collective strength to improve the quality of life for all African Americans.

At the four-day event, actor/humanitarian Louis Gossett Jr., R&B songstress Mya, entertainment mogul and activist Russell Simmons and a slew of other notables participated in over 70 seminars, workshops and information forums, tackling issues and topics facing black America.

Sessions centered on subjects such as the growing concern over environmental climate change and its significance across racial and economic groups. Joining a panel that included Lawrence Bender, producer of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” and Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama likened the impact of the escalating climate crisis to that experienced by New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“On all of these issues, it is the poor and the dispossessed who are disproportionately going to be affected. It is their homes that are going to be ruined, their crops that will be destroyed,” said the Illinois senator, his ascending celebrity evidenced by the throngs of press and civilians rushing to the stage front for snapshots whenever he spoke.

“The refugees that will be displaced will be the black and the brown people around the world. And so, the notion that this is an issue we shouldn’t be speaking to makes no sense,” he added, receiving a roaring ovation from the nearly 1,500 in attendance.

Another of the many intriguing panels focused on the decline in African American enrollment in law, medical and professional schools.

Before an audience of roughly 100, Democratic U.S. Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Stephanie Tubb Jones of Ohio moderated the discussion of a distinguished set of experts — including Princeton University graduate school dean Karen Weaver, Thomas Cooley Law School’s John Nussbaumer, National Bar Association President Vanita Banks, Pauline Schneider of the American Bar Association and Dwayne M. Murray, grand polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. — on discrepancies in recruitment practices at top law firms, as well as criticisms about accessibility to resources that help prepare students for standardized tests like the LSAT.

The panel gave audience to compelling arguments made by law school students from Howard University, the University of Michigan and Harvard, among others, centering on popular firms’ lack of recruitment from historically black colleges and inadequate resources to address the issue of minority student retention, with the panel citing a growing “elitist bias” in the legal profession as one of the chief opponents to diversity recruitment.

Music impresario Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network was also on hand to present “Get Your Money Right,” a financial empowerment seminar aimed at teaching young people about financial literacy.

Rapper Bun B of the Houston duo UGK joined R&B stars Mya, Lil’ Mo, Lyfe Jennings and LeToya Luckett, television personalities Free and Terrence from BET’s “106 and Park,” hip-hop pioneer Big Daddy Kane and Chrysler Financial COO William Jones to speak with thousands of young people about the do’s and don’ts of financial independence.

The conference closed Saturday night with the CBC Foundation’s ALC Awards Dinner Banquet, a celebration of high-achieving individuals for their significant contributions to society.

Co-hosted by actors Gossett Jr. and Gabrielle Union, the black-tie gala was attended by thousands of dignitaries, including Obama’s chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Oscar winner Forest Whitaker, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network co-founders Simmons and Ben Chavis, and many more.

Recipients of the Foundation’s 2007 Phoenix Awards at the dinner included former U.S. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.; former United Negro College Fund President and CEO William H. Gray III, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, and Rutgers University women’s basketball head coach C. Vivian Stringer and her Scarlet Knights.

“The Phoenix Award recognizes those who through their efforts and accomplishments have made significant contributions to society, and it symbolizes the immortality of the human spirit and an eternal desire to reach its full potential,” said Elsie L. Scott, Ph.D., the Foundation’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Our winners continue to inspire and we proudly honor them.”

A highlight of the evening came when thousands rose to give a standing ovation to several members of the Little Rock Nine, who were recognized on the 50th anniversary of their historic desegregation of Little Rock Central High School.

As legislators, congressmen, educators and entertainers filed out of the convention center, the earlier challenge of Congresswoman Tubb Jones continued to ring:

“Do not let the challenge scare you from doing what you have to do. Do not let what we have talked about this weekend go to waste. Meet the objective and brighten the corner where you are.”

Renowned actor, activist and humanitarian Louis Gossett Jr. served as one of the emcees at the black-tie ALC Awards Dinner gala, the high-profile event that brought a close to this year’s legislative conference. (Victor Kakulu photo)

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. (left), accepts the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Members’ Award, on behalf of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, from U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., at the Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) Awards Dinner gala, held last Saturday night in Washington, D.C. (Victor Kakulu photo)

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