Last Saturday morning, the wind howled, the snowflakes swirled, and my alarm clock went off at 5 am. I had set the alarm to go off even earlier than normal so that I could be on time to attend Tavis Smiley’s We Count – The Black Agenda event at Chicago State University (CSU). I wanted to be on time to hear from all those that were to be on the panel. I wanted to hear and come away from the meeting with a clear, concise, concrete, and complete agenda. And I did.
Now the event was definitely interesting. The panel combination of Smiley, Dr. Cornell West, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Min. Louis Farrakhan and ex-Ald. Dorothy Tillman and others was a listen-fest for the ears. And although I could have stayed home and watched the entire event over the internet, it’s not the same thing as being there. Television cannot televise the atmosphere of the crowd that showed our hunger for real discussions, real solutions, real decisions and in the end—a real agenda.
I got to CSU shortly before 7am. If you haven’t seen the Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center, it’s a beauty. I had gone there for the first time a few weeks back for the Census concert, so I was shocked to see newly installed (or temporarily placed) metal detectors at the front door. My mind immediately acknowledged that it was because of Farrakhan. I also had to have my bags searched. I was taken aback when the CSU security guard allowed the women from the Nation of Islam (NOI) to rummage thru my possessions. Those NOI women were not duly authorized state employees who have been fingerprinted, identified, duly trained and have had their own backgrounds checked for criminal activity. I have written a letter of concern to Wayne Watson, Chancellor of CSU pointing out my contentions that allowing the women from the NOI to search my bags was akin to permitting the general public to rummage through my possessions. My metal thermos full of hot tea could have held a weapon and those women didn’t have the knowledge to detect it, or even the curiosity to open it, so their actions were more show that security.
Smiley started off the discussions by placing a cube labeled with the word “Love” on the table and it set the tone for both the individuals on stage and those of us in the audience. If there were to be disagreements, it could be done in a fashion without people being disagreeable (which is why I held my protest about the NOI women acting as security until I could pen a letter). And it worked. It was a lively four hour conversation with some things being said that needed to be said. But because this discussion was so vast and it was so much to take in and truthfully I wasn’t taking notes because I wanted to be in the moment and not just be a reporter of it.
Since coming home, I have again re-watched the entire conversation. And what I saw in retrospect is that what had been good in person was even better replayed. I saw individuals put information on the table that may make others uncomfortable, but the data was facts and not just suppositions. The black community cannot afford—no matter who is seated at the head of the White House table to not put forth our agenda. And what is that Agenda? It’s the one that has already been defined by Smiley’s 2006 book, The Covenant with Black America.
The Covenant has a ten point agenda that is as valid today under Obama as it was when the book was first published under President Bush. The ten points are; Healthcare, Education, Criminal Justice, Police, Affordable Housing, Voting, Rural Development, Economics, Environmental and Digital Divide.
My only criticism of the event is that it didn’t have a single male under the age of 30 on the panel. That is the age group with the most unemployed. They do the most killings They are the ones most often killed. They are the ones going to jail, dropping out of school and in need of the most intervention.
I love and respect President Obama. But I also love and respect black people more. We must force him to do for us and to address our issues the same way other groups are pushing forward to get theirs. We cannot afford to allow this opportunity to pass by sitting back and waiting. We are the only group of people who didn’t immigrate to this country. We are the only group that had laws made so that we couldn’t participate. As the title to the conference stated, “The Black Agenda is the American Agenda.”
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