State Of Black Union

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On Saturday, February 25th, the 7th Annual State of the Black Union was held in Houston at St. Agnes Church, where an audience of about 8,000 convened to hear about forty prominent leaders discuss a variety of issues of concern to the African-American community.

The affair was hosted by Tavis Smiley, who announced the publication of a new book which was released in coordination with the event. Entitled “The Covenant with Black America,� this collection of essays is ostensibly a step-by-step manual for dealing with the pressing political, economic and medical concerns of Black society. Delineating a checklist of 10 specific goals, The Covenant is also a document signed by each participant as proof of his or her commitment to the survival of Black people in the United States.
As discussed on the dais, these Covenants include:

Securing the right to healthcare and well-being;
Establishing a system of public education in which all children achieve at high levels and reach their full potential; Correcting the system of unequal justice;
Fostering accountable, community-centered policing;
Insuring broad access to affordable neighborhoods that connect to opportunity; 
Claiming our democracy; Strengthening our rural roots;
Accessing good jobs, wealth, and economic prosperity;
Assuring environmental justice for all; and, Closing the racial digital divide.

The day-long think tank, which aired live on cable-TV on C-Span in three segments, relied on these aforementioned Covenants as its prevailing theme. The panel of the mid-day session undeniably had the most heavyweights, with The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Reverend Al Sharpton, Princeton Professor Cornel West, Harry Belafonte, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Attorney Raymond Brown, Jr., Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Mel Watt (D-NC), Civil Rights Leader Wade Henderson, Dr. Na’im Akbar, Bishop Harry Jackson, Policy Link Founder Angela Glover Blackwell, Professor Kimberle Williams-Crenshaw, and State Senator Jackie Winters (R-OR).

While all of the above weighed in eloquently, the biggest crowd pleasers were undoubtedly Farrakhan, Sharpton, West and Belafonte. Minister Farrakhan, who looked a little weak when he started to speak, summoned enough strength to bring down the house by the end of an inspirational tirade which not only indicted America for Black folks’ woes, but questioned whether the goals envisioned by The Covenant were even achievable. After he left the stage, several speakers went out of their way to take issue with his remarks in that regard.

The opening session, which focused on business empowerment, was emceed by NPR’s Michelle McQueen Martin and a few of the contributors were the Urban League’s Marc Morial, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Reverend Floyd Flake, and NBA star-turned-restaurant chain owner Junior Bridgeman.

The closing session was dedicated to emerging leaders, but they were unfortunately given short shift since long-winded speeches and CPT delays meant little time was left when they finally got their chance. Impressive nonetheless, these rising stars included Princeton Grad Student Victor March, Malia Lazu of the Institute for Policy Studies, Trish Millines Dziko of the Technology Access Foundation and filmmaker Shola Lynch, this critic’s pick as the best Black director of 2004 for Chisholm ’72.

While it is impossible to recount in an article of this length but a tiny fraction of what transpired during a meeting of this magnitude, those who missed the gathering are in luck because Tavis and company are taking their show on the road. Visit: to see when the series of town hall meeting will be arriving in your neck of the woods. My only advice to the organizers is to figure out a way to save time by asking the speakers to stop paying each other so many compliments. For although it might be polite to give props, you often end up squandering a significant part of a prime opportunity to share your innovative ideas.

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