An air of urgency was conspicuous last week during the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)’s National Town Hall meeting on jobs. The Sept. 22 meeting, day two of the CBC’s Annual Legislative Conference, saw one of the D.C. Convention Center’s most impressive ballrooms filled to capacity by participants intent on seeing some of Black America’s most stellar minds in politics, higher education, government and finance diagnose and troubleshoot the economic malaise Blacks face across the nation.

Moderator Alexis Herman, former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, tossed questions at a panel consisting of Marc Morial, former New Orleans mayor and current president of the National Urban League, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, author, economist and president of Bennett College, Robert Johnson, president of the RLJ Companies, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.), CBC Chairman Emmanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), and William Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

“Black Americans are facing the greatest retrogression in 40 years, a grave situation requiring that we must ourselves on the agenda even if it means getting out of our comfort level,” said Morial. He called for bold executive action along the lines of FDR’s New Deal to put people to work at once. “The next stimulus funds should not be given directly to the governors,” Morial said, noting that many sent the much needed funds back due to political partisanship.

“Some political leaders are willing to see people lose everything rather than have this president succeed.”

Morial suggested the money go to mayors, local governments, and nonprofit organizations to develop programs that directly affect communities.

Malveaux introduced startling previously unreported statistics that set Black unemployment hovered at much higher levels compared to the population at large. Among Black males, she said, the rate hovered around 36 percent, akin to Depression era figures.

“The delusion of post-racialism is part of the problem, in which a degree of naïve hopefulness misled many to assume institutional barriers based on race were a thing of the past,” Malveaux said. “They are anything but-Black people discovered to their grief. Now we are sitting inside of a trick bag.”

Malveaux, an advocate for historically Black colleges and universities, stressed the importance of turning out greater numbers of African American graduates with degrees in higher science in order to improve their hiring prospects in this era of intense workplace competition.

Billionaire Johnson, famous for founding Black Entertainment Television, focused on the difficulty Black entrepreneurs face in accessing capital. “We need race-specific remedies to solve these problems,” he said. “There is now a compelling national interest in changing the situation for African Americans.”

Johnson encouraged Blacks to start saving money like never before. “By 2020, Whites will be a minority in America and they will do whatever possible to take care of themselves to the detriment of other races. We must rely on ourselves,” Johnson said.

Waters seethed about the current political atmosphere and its resulting Black marginalization. “African Americans are not at the table anywhere anymore,” she lamented, and described how stimulus funds never reached people desperately in need of jobs. “The big companies ripped it off.” Waters was adamant that the next stimulus legislation pass without being whittled down into another tax cut. “I will ask the president, where is the money for economic development and stability in our communities?”

Cleaver caused a stir when he glumly said, “Congress is so caught up in pathological partisanship that no new jobs bill will be allowed to pass. Between now and the election 14 months from now, nothing will happen addressing unemployment.”

Lucy stressed the long-standing importance of trade unionism in shoring up Black hiring and advancement and said the inequities of the current tax code chokes important resources off from economic stimulation. “Those people who benefited the most from the system should pay their fair share.”

But to some, it seemed like another Caucus weekend filled with political rhetoric and emotional statements. Jenise Patterson, founder of Parent Watch, has attended CBC conferences since it began. “The CBC should spend less time talking about forming coalitions with other groups who don’t include us in their agenda and focus more on how we can strengthen ourselves in every county and city in America to have our voices heard as one.”

Researcher DeRutter Jones provided additional material for this story.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO