WASHINGTON, D.C.—The facilitators of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Emerging Leaders program decided not to have a traditional panel of speakers for its 44th Annual Legislative Conference forum on Sept. 26 named “Power to the People: Training up the Next Generation of Leaders.” Instead, they opted for an approach that allowed participants to speak on their experiences as African Americans. During the event, a robust discussion ensued about what it means to be young and Black.
“It is very important that young people of color feel that they can express themselves,” said Ciara Taylor, political director for the Dream Defenders, a Florida-based activist group. “There was no space for that in the past legislative conferences and we don’t need someone to tell us what our experiences are. We have our own power.”
The CBCF’s Emerging Leaders program is designed to train and organize youth and students in civic engagement and action. It is one of the most established entities of the foundation.
Topics at the forum included the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman; the problems that Blacks face in the country’s criminal justice system and the unfairness of patriarchy in the American society.
Devon Douglass, a graduate of the University of Tulsa School of Law and a St. Louis native, told a moving story about facing racism at her own school.
“My mother left me off at the law school one time, and there were several cars backed up,” she said. “When I went into the building, a man harshly told me that I had held up the line and asked for my identification.”
Her mother tried to engage him in a friendly way but the man did not let up. She walked away and he called six police officers and the dean of the law school to talk about the situation.
“What I remember about that experience is that the dean, who is a female, yelled at me in front of my law school colleagues, saying, ‘If you didn’t do anything wrong, why were six officers called?’ I could not say anything to that. No suit, no pumps can protect me from the color of my skin,” Douglas said.
While females constitute the majority of the American population, they still continue to suffer gender discrimination. Brittany Claybrooks, who works on Capitol Hill, said that she was advised not to work for the female members of Congress because they were harder on their employees.
“In Congress, as a woman, sometimes you have to prove yourself more than if you were a man,” she said. “I want to be a leader someday but I want to be just who I am, not taking on a role as a man.”
Dante Daniels, another participant, explained that he had a different experience with patriarchy.
“I was running track in high school and in a race, a girl came out ahead of me,” he said. “I remember my coach telling me that I shouldn’t have been beaten by a girl. The girl who beat me was well-trained and very athletic but I still was yelled at because she beat me.”