The Washington, D.C. based Capital Press Club (CPC) celebrated its 70th year by holding a May 1 forum at the African American Civil War Museum. The forum’s theme “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday in America! – A Nation Divided Against Itself,” focused on the state of Black America and what needs to be done immediately to solve problems that still plague blacks today. The forum was greeted with a full house; a well-attended event that included young adults and students.
CPC’s President Hazel Trice Edney, Editor-in-Chief of the Trice Edney News Wire and President/CEO of Trice Edney Communications related sobering news why the forum was necessary –
“The deafening silence on some of the greatest atrocities facing Black America has set off a level of urgency that cannot be ignored,” said CPC President Hazel Trice Edney. “Economic recovery, quality education and criminal justice remain elusive in many of our communities; not to mention the unfinished criminal justice agenda on the issue of Trayvon Martin and other African-American children. It’s time to sound the alarm.”
The forum began at 6:30 p.m. with a distinguished panel of civil rights activists giving their views of what needs to be done to solve challenges blacks face in their present emergency. Many negative occurrences continue to hinder black progress – racism, incarceration levels, states making voting more difficult for people of color, the poor and the elderly; the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court decision making the law meaningless, changes in affirmative action laws, stand your ground laws, unemployment levels, a staggering wealth gap, a rise in hate crimes, and other relative issues that have made national headlines.
The panel consisted of Dr. Wilmer Leon, political scientist and talk show host; Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center; Dr. Benjamin Chavis, civil rights leader and co-chair of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network; Shanta Driver, attorney and national chair for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by any Means Necessary (BAMN); and Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor, Empowerment Temple and founder, Empowerment Movement in Baltimore, Md. Economist, columnist, educator and former President of Bennett College for Women Dr. Julianne Malveaux moderated the forum.
The collage of challenges brought forth deserves a well-meaning and focused discussion. The alarm has gone off, the crisis is extreme, the bleeding must stop. Questions asked: Where are we? What are the most important issues blacks need to ponder on? Where can ideas be brought forth? What is wrong with us? Who must carry the fight? How can we solve the challenges we face?
A special appeal was made to young adults, students, and school-aged children to learn more about civil rights and take corrective action to continue the fight that is so much needed. The panel believed their generation failed about not doing a better job to keep progressive action going. The looks on the panelists’ faces showed seriousness with vexation of what is currently going on in America.
Austin-Hillery believed the two most important issues were mass incarceration and voting rights. Dr. Leon emphasized demystifying – explaining the example of using your living room, then yard, then neighborhood to expand oneself in organizing; then mobilizing others.
Driver emphasized immigrant rights and gave her synopsis on the Schuette affirmative action case. She continued in stating that the affirmative action case was really about voting rights and the 14th Amendment. In conclusion, it was realized that “the vestiges of slavery will never be fixed.”
Dr. Chavis wants Black America to wake up when he declared the statement, “We are trillion dollar former slaves!” In passionate rhetoric, Chavis pushed for a “black consciousness movement” linked with black empowerment for blacks to get on the ball. Chavis knows from experience in working with Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. and his own leadership the tools needed to reclaim what has been lost in the fight. He emphasized to “broaden your minds on civil right issues and get out of the box!” He held up his I-Phone to the audience emphasizing – particularly to the younger crowd – to use the device to organize rather than spending time talking nonsense. Despite the disparate goings-on that infiltrate blacks, Chavis stated with hope, “Don’t let anyone break your spirit.”
Pastor Harrison Bryant mentioned African Americans need to think more globally and get into business for themselves, to become entrepreneurs.
The knowledgeable panel generally supported and agreed with each other’s input. All suggested to pick an issue you have a passion for and work from there.
There was a distinction on the definition of institutional racism; Dr. Leon believed it was a matter of skin color due to what has happened to blacks in America, while Driver believed it had to do with policy and social issues.
A question and answer session was set up near the end of the forum for the audience to participate. Students from the Maya Angelou Schools contributed. Topics ranged from stop and frisk, intra-racial hatred, job creation, and going against the system without fear.
Attendee James Wright from Seat Pleasant, Md. thought the forum was “A good panel discussion, it focused on what African Americans pay attention to.” Wright praised Chavis and Bryant by stating these men “work every day for our people.” He continued, “Black entrepreneurship and empowerment should be the focus, black women need more educational opportunities after college, black men need to step up.”
Young adults Michael Turner, Diamond Adeeso and Kenneth Johnson, all 18, attended the event and were glad they came. Asked what a solution could be for older and younger adults to converse better Johnson replied, “Live what they speak, respect must be involved.”
Turner gave his comments on relative issues. “Influence must play a part. Wisdom is what I want to know. This was a good opportunity to tour the museum. Entertainment must be involved; today’s young are a lot more visual.” He plans to attend college in the fall.
Ms. Adeeso stated it’s hard for her to sit through a lecture but added, “I had no choice but enjoyed it.” She likes visual effects, can’t be without her phone and plans to attend beauty school.
The forum ended around 8:30 p.m. but many stayed afterwards for the reception and talk with panelists. Attendees at the Mayday forum were asked to put their information down when first entering the museum, so the CPC could keep a roster and stay in touch to further the cause and expand its progress.
The forum’s proactive event was a massive warning – while at the same time revealed steps to bring positive change to improve readiness for Black America.
The African American Civil War Museum is located at 1925 Vermont Avenue NW. its website is www.afroamcivilwar.org/. The Capital Press Club (from its website ) “exists to unite communications professionals of color through professional development, networking, new business opportunities and entrepreneurship, and issues advocacy.” Go to http://capitalpressclub.org for more information.