First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks at Phoenix Awards Dinner
Many of the country's most notable African-American leaders -- such as news commentators Roland Martin and Donna Brazile and a host of politicians -- gathered over the weekend in the nation's capital for the Congressional Black Caucus' 42nd Annual Legislative Conference (ALC).
The four-day event, held Sept.19-22 at the Washington Convention Center in Northwest, included the staple Prayer Breakfast and culminated with the Phoenix Awards Dinner. The conference also showcased the Emerging Leaders series as well as a variety of workshops and town hall meetings, receptions, exhibits, vendor fares and entertainment.
During the elaborate awards dinner on Sept. 22, where first lady Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker, tribute was paid to U.S. Attorney General Erich Holder, film maker George Lucas, Harvey Gantt, the first African-American mayor of Charlotte, NC, and Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida. The event was hosted by actors Sharon Leal and Robert Townsend and attracted about 3,000 guests.
In paying tribute to the civil rights achievements of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mrs. Obama mentioned the unwavering efforts of Georgia Congressman John Lewis and others. She cautioned that just because "there are no more 'whites only' signs keeping us out, no one barring our children from the schoolhouse door, we know that our journey is far, far from finished.
"Congressman Lewis understood the importance of that right," Mrs. Obama said. "That's why he faced down that row of billy clubs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, risking his life so we could one day cast our ballots. As he put it, "...your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union."
Overall, the conference shed light on the national election on November 6 which pits Democratic President Barack Obama against GOP contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Four years ago, African Americans turned out in droves to help elect the nation's first black commander-in-chief. However, as election time nears, given the state of the economy, many of his past supporters ponder how they will vote this time. That concern, coupled with new voter ID laws, was also at center stage of the ALC.
"This struggle continues and the same type of mentality that would rush there to prevent us from voting yesterday exists today with the same motivation to stop us from voting," said Rep. Charles Rangel.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Jesse Jackson added that it's essential that every vote counts.
"A non vote for X is a vote for Y. Everybody votes," Jackson said. "And so to not vote would be a big mistake."
The CBC's foundation is the nonprofit arm of the House and Senate's Black caucus. While most conference-goers are Obama supporters, the foundation doesn't formally endorse a candidate.
However, the CBC does embrace goals that include closing the achievement gap, assuring quality health care for every American and focusing in employment and economic security.