By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Too often people who have experienced and endured long term oppression and suffering take for granted some of the socioeconomic and political indicators of progress. In other words, it is important periodically to assess both the setbacks and the gains that Black America has made during the past 50 years.
I regularly attend various Black conventions and conferences. Over the past few years, I have noticed the emergence an underlying pessimistic sub-theme that increasingly permeates the gatherings of Black Americans.
Especially during the past several years, a dampening atmosphere of pessimism has been hovering over the national dialogue and debate within the Black American community. Of course discussions and debates are usually healthy experiences for all people. Yet, I have recently witnessed a steady rise in the repressive and regressive forces of racial discrimination and injustice across America. Unfortunately, this has had a debilitating impact on the aspirations and spirit of Black Americans.
These are hard times for the majority of people in the United States who are still mired in poverty and facing long-term unemployment. But the truth is we have had hard times before. Black Americans have always been able to overcome the most horrendous of adversities. Our progress was never measured by what the forces of oppression did, but rather the advancement of the interests of Black Americans. Progress was always first determined, defined and evaluated by what Black American leadership and the masses of people accomplished.
Even in the face of formidable injustice, we have a long track record of success and progress. For proof, we need look no farther than Capitol Hill. The significant local, regional, national, and international leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) during the last 44 years has been simply outstanding.
I remember the founding of the CBC in 1971. Richard Nixon was in the White House and it was just three years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was widespread worry in Black America about how to continue to push forward for civil rights. The consensus was that we needed to focus on political empowerment at the congressional and municipal levels.
The original 13 founding member of the CBC were all noted and accomplished freedom fighters in their respective communities: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (D-NY); and Congressmen Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), William “Bill” Clay, Sr. (D-Mo.), Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), George Collins (D-Ill., Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), Ralph Metcalfe (D-Ill., John Conyers (D-Mich.), Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.), Robert Nix (D-Penn., Charles Diggs (D-Mich.) and Gus Hawkins (D-Calif.).
The CBC was bold and unapologetic at its birth to assert and to represent the interests of millions of Black Americans. I remember when the CBC was initiated there was a concern by some conservative thinking people that to use the term “Black” in the name of the CBC would cause a negative reaction from mainstream America. We thank God that the CBC all these years has not retreated from its boldness and assertive posture in the national body politic in America.
From the days of President Nixon to the days of President Barack Obama, the mission and constructive leadership role of the Congressional Black Caucus is still very much needed as a priority organization that well deserves the respect and support not only from Black Americans but also from all who believe in freedom, justice and equality.
Under the theme “It Starts With You,” the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 44th Annual Legislative Conference attracted 10,000 Black Americans and others who lifted up and advocated for a comprehensive national agenda that will contribute to the present and future progress of Black America. We thank Chairwoman Marcia Fudge for continuing the freedom fighting leadership tradition of the CBC. To the more than 40 members of the CBC, today we express solidarity and a solid salute of support.
Benjamin F.Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.