Despite a year marked with natural disasters, White supremacists and political tension, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 47th Annual Legislative Conference challenged attendees to stand against resistance, be resilient and rise above tranquility to create solutions for age-old issues the Black community continues to face.

The conference, sporting the theme of “And Still I Rise,” a phrase derived from the late poet-laureate Maya Angelou’s famous poem “Still I Rise,” was held from Sept. 20-24 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest D.C. More than 8,000 people from various areas of the county attended the event.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was one of the speakers at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 47th Annual Legislative Conference. (Courtesy photo)

“The first reason we focus on rising is because there’s somebody trying to pull us down.  We are told that we are a great people, but we tell ourselves that in spite of what others have said about us,” Michael Eric Dyson, keynote speaker at the annual Phoenix Awards dinner, told attendees. Dyson is also a Georgetown University sociology professor, {New York Times} opinion writer and award-winning author.

From the opening press conference, there were murmurs about how this year’s conference would be different than the past eight, specifically because President Barack Obama would not be in attendance.  In addition, the conference occurred during a time when parts of the Western hemisphere were being heavily affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Maria, and Tropical Storm Lee, devastating parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and several countries in the Caribbean.

“If we ever needed the perfect storm to alarm and organize us, that storm has made its arrival,” said Charles E. Blake, keynote speaker of the Prayer Breakfast and Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ located in Memphis, Tenn.

Each speaker during the conference used “And Still I Rise” to serve as encouragement to continue to fight for justice and reform and to continue to push beyond the difficult times that the Black community currently faces.

“You know that the Lord will order our steps, but I’m telling you now that we have to move our feet,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, during the prayer breakfast.

During the breakfast, musical guest Pastor Shirley Caesar testified about rising above the troubles of the world through faith. “Every now and then I want to have a pity party, but Jesus told me, ‘Shirley, I’ll never leave you or forsake you,’” said Caesar.

Later that evening, during the final event – the annual Phoenix Awards Dinner – individuals were acknowledged for their work in helping to support, uplift and preserve the Black community. Honorees included: Tamika D. Mallory, national co-chair of the Women’s March (ALC Co-Chair’s Phoenix Award); Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (The Harold Washington Phoenix Award); Rep. Ron Kirk (ALC Co-Chair’s Phoenix Award); Ruby Bridges, an American Civil Rights activist who was the first Black child to integrate all-White schools at age 6 in New Orleans (CBC Chair’s Phoenix Award); and Thomas F. Freeman, a distinguished professor emeritus at Texas Southern College (CBCF Chair’s Phoenix Award).

The honorees spoke about their ability to face violence, oppression systemic setbacks and still rise. “It is the work that I’ve done in the trenches for almost the last 20 years of my life that I would like to be remembered for holding the hands of a four-year-old boy’s mother who was burying her son because he was shot on a playground. It is the late night calls with Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland; Gwenn Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who I saw in this room this evening; Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, that works sums up my life,” Mallory told the attendees during her acceptance speech.

Bridge’s emphasized that part of rising is coaching and training younger generations to not get caught up in racial differences.

“For me, my work is all about kids,” Bridges, told the AFRO.  “It really is about bringing kids together because we need to understand that none of our babies come into disliking someone because of the color of their skin. I always say that it is the adults who are keeping racism alive. If we are going to get past our racial differences it is going to come from our kids.”

The honorees and speakers also challenged the audience to work together to strengthen the Black community. “My future is limited, yours unlimited,” Freeman, 98, said. “For the days that lie ahead, the challenges that face us ahead, must be met by you, and may this assembly serve as a challenge, for each of you to remember, that really they don’t have our best interest in mind.  We must do it ourselves.”

Hamil Harris contributed to this article.