In 40-odd years, the Congressional Black Caucus has grown from a group of 13 to 49 members endowed with political know-how and clout. Subsequently, its Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) in Washington, D.C., has also grown in stature over the past four decades — but for the wrong reasons.
The event, for a sizable numbers of its participants, is little more than a “big party,” a gathering purely for socialization and/or solicitation. These days there is a growing sense that there are significant differences among African-American activists and the CBC.
For those that think that the CBC may have lost its political demeanor, know that the CBC has been of immense value to African-Americans since its founding. Over the decades, the CBC’s been the organ through which concerns of Black Americans entered Congress and means by which policy victories have been delivered for disenfranchised minorities. CBC adherents say that interests of Black America “remain central to the caucus’s aims.” Let’s all remind CBC members that it was formed to rally their collective influence and ensure that African-Americans’ issues were raised and debated in Congress. Its guiding principle, set forth by Rep. Bill Clay of Missouri, was: “Black people have no permanent friends, nor enemies … just permanent interests.”
The CBC has grown to 49 members — 47 in the House and two in the Senate — that span 21 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. They are obliged to seek recompense in the nation’s discussions of racism and white supremacy. They must move away from mainstream politics to take action regarding the symbols and policies of racism all around us.
It’s true that some members are tone-deaf to African-Americans’ well-being. Some CBC members may have stayed too long at the fair. African-American groups such as Black Lives Matter feel disconnected from the CBC (e.g., Rep. Elijah Cummings telling Baltimore protesters to “go home” after Freddie Gray’s death and Rep. John Lewis scolding protesters for interrupting a Hillary Clinton speech in Atlanta).
The caucus needs to go back to basics, reengaging in their founding goals: “positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African-Americans” by putting legs to House Resolution 40, which would establish a commission to study and develop reparation proposals for African-Americans.
For starters, all 49 CBC members need to sign onto the current Congress’s version of H.R. 40. The resolution, which would be a major step toward reparations for slavery, has 32 co-sponsors, of which just 23 are CBC members.
Through the years, CBCF events “make money.” Revenues from ALC events have enabled the CBCF to deposit over $5 million in Black banks and fund hundreds of fellowships. This year’s ALC, themed “And Still I Rise,” could be educational as well as informative toward Blacks’ collective emergence beyond racial inequalities. Reps. Robin Kelly of Chicago and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, ALC co-chairs, invite concerned Blacks to join in exploring today’s issues from our own perspectives.
It’s time the CBC go back to the reason it was founded. Now that the CBC has increased numbers and clout, they could start a national dialogue on race if they came together on a seminal legislative issue for Blacks and their interests.
Concerned Blacks must make this year’s event about more than just parties and receptions by setting goals that advance Blacks through research and policy.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.