By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

COVID-19 could not stop the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) from holding its 49th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC)! While 30,000 members of the Black elite are not descending upon D.C. for a week of panels, performances and parties, important work will still occur for this year’s virtual convention. Under the theme, “Now is Our Time,” the #VirtualALC kicked off for a month of discussions, webinars and sessions addressing challenges in the Black community and how to achieve true justice and equality in our streets, home and in Congress.

For a conference that normally comes with a registration cost, additional per-event fees and, often, great fatigue after cramming all of that networking, information and fun into less than a week, the 2020 Virtual ALC comes with perks. From Aug. 31 to Oct. 1, the CBCF will offer more than 80 sessions about “issues impacting African Americans” and “the global Black community,” according to the conference’s website.

This year the Honorary Co-Chairs of the conference are Rep. Hank Johnson (D- Georgia) and Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D- Michigan), featuring CBCF President and CEO Tonya Veasey. 

“We are excited to offer ALC completely online this year to ensure the foundation’s mission is fulfilled, and the discussions and solutions around issues important to African Americans and our supporters remain at the forefront,” Veasey said in a statement. “When reshaping this year’s conference, we couldn’t ignore the economic impact COVID-19 has had on the African-American community which affects affordability to travel as well as our stakeholders’ and supporters’ overall health concerns, and level of comfort with air travel and ground travel to other states and regions.”

Millennial activist and DC Young Democrats National Committeewoman Sheika Reida also emphasized the importance of the virtual conference. “It needs to be virtual because we need to prioritize the safety of the Black community, as Black people we were hit hardest by the first wave of COVID and it demonstrates excellent leadership on the part of the CBC,” Reid said.

Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable Public Policy Network, also shared the importance of the virtual ALC.

Unfortunately, our nation is still experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic that is adversely impacting Black communities at disproportionate levels, especially higher death rates. We also know that due to a lack of leadership by our current president in the White House, there is not a national coordinated response to reducing the impact of this pandemic on the American people. Now, more than ever, Black communities need good information on how to survive COVID-19, how to leverage and protect our vote in the 2020 Election cycle; and move on policy priorities impacting Black America—and the CBCF ALC is that trusted national source we need to provide that information,” Campbell told the {AFRO}. For these reasons and more, we are delighted to serve as a partner with the CBCF ALC and Essence again this year to co-host our annual BWR “Power of the Sister Vote” Policy Forum, on Oct. 1, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST, to release our 6th Annual BWR/Essence Poll, that will include sharing what Black women want from the next president for their vote, as well as share their policy priorities.”

Conversations about the economy and COVID will be at the forefront of the first week of the Annual Legislative Conference with events such as: “Money, Wealth, and Disparities: Agony to Action- Creating Inclusive Access,” “PDs for NMA: What Does the Black Community Need to Know About Vaccinations During the COVID-19 Pandemic?” along with “From the Mailbox to the Ballot Box: Exercising Your Right to Vote in the Age of COVID-19” and more.

Spencer Gopaul, who works with the D.C. Commission on African American Affairs, discussed why the Annual Legislative Conference is key even virtually.

“The CBCF ALC offers an opportunity for two things. First, it offers an opportunity for federal funding. People come to ALC so they can talk to Congressmen about getting federal funding into the Black communities. Virtually we still have the Congress members and their staff participating,”Gopaul said.  “And secondly, which is almost as important as federal funding, is that the country’s biggest corporations show up to the ALC, like Walmart, Facebook and Northrop Gromman. It’s about holding these corporations accountable to make sure they’re responding to the Black community and their needs.”

Gopaul, Campbell and Reid weighed in on the importance of this year’s theme, “Now is Our Time.”

“Now is not like anything the U.S. has ever seen. Nothing like the protests of the teens, 20s, 40s and 60s, nothing like the protests of the 90s and early 2000s, these protestors and the civic engagement nationwide for Black people is mostly White people. I’ve never seen so many White people fighting and saying ‘Black Lives Matter.’  We have more eyes on this than we ever had, and it’s just as simple as that,” Gopaul said.

“The theme is important because of what MLK called ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ We don’t have the luxury of assuming that legislative change will happen on its own…but it also happens when you take advantage of the time,” Reid said.  “If we don’t prioritize our issues, we can’t expect anyone else to,” she added.

Reid also said she hopes to see legislative changes as a result of the virtual conference.

“We need to figure out how we can legislatively apply pressure to police unions and cops and people who kill Black people for no reason and we need the best and brightest minds at the table to figure out how we can have some legislative impact, and the CBCF is the perfect place and time.” 

Campbell evaluated the importance of this year’s theme from a Black woman’s viewpoint and from the social challenges America is currently facing.

“From a Black woman’s perspective, I believe ‘now is the time’ for Black women’s leadership to go to the next level for such a time as this. So, the fact that for the first time in history, the nation has a chance to elect the first Black woman to serve as the vice president of the United States, is a shining example of what it means to have a theme, ‘Now is Our Time.’  Further, I believe the ‘now is our time’ theme for the CBCF ALC reflects the ‘Black Lives Matter Movement’ moment we are in, that has taken the nation and world by storm—demanding for the eradication of systemic racism, unjust killing of Black and Brown bodies by police and White nationalists, protecting our voting rights and to address other economic, health and social justice disparities impacting Black Americans.”

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor