After years of enduring Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill working to dismantle Civil Rights laws the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) concluded their annual conference last week, fired up and ready for a new season of political battles with a new generation of foot soldiers enlisted in the fight.
“Why are they trying to prevent economic prosperity and wealth-building in communities of color?” asked CBC Chairman Stephen Hosford (D-Nev.) during a forum. Flanked by Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), they vowed to fight conservative attempts to turn back the clock on Black economic and political progress. The SBA has temporarily suspended new applications to its 8(a) programs after the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in July ruled against people using the “socially disadvantaged” category as a status to gain entry to the program. But Hosford said “The Congressional Black Caucus will fight, defend, and (hold) the line” when it comes to these programs. “It is very important that we create wealth and my question to these individuals who are standing in the way and filing these lawsuits is what are they afraid of? It is important for all of America to know who is bringing these lawsuits and why they are doing it. They are attempting to take us back at a time when we are making so much progress.” Whether voting right, economic or criminal justice, dozens of topics were covered during the conference mixed with parties and issues forums. Trial lawyer Ben Crump held a forum at the convention center with the families of those killed by police brutality. “When you talk about equality, equity, and access,” whether it is through housing, education, employment, or healthcare we realize the power of our dollars,” he said. The group discussed a path forward for police reform since the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has still not been passed in Congress. Families will discuss what reforms have been successful on the local level with lawmakers. “I gotta believe a greater good has to result from my son being killed,” said RowVaughn Wells, the mother of Tyre Nichols, who died after he was beaten by Memphis police officers Jan. 7. Other participants included: Mona Harden, mother of Ronald Greene; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Tiffany Crutcher, sister of Terence Crutcher; Allisa Findley, sister of Botham Jean. The lawmakers present included: Rep. Lucy McBath; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Steven Horsford, and Sen. Cory Booker. On Saturday morning, Karen Clarke Sheard and Reverend Dr. Gina Stewart were the special guests at the CBC Day of Healing, formerly the CBC prayer breakfast, at the Convention Center. The Day of Healing was a new feature of the ALC, that offered moments of reflection and rejuvenation for various communities. Nicole Austin-Hillery, President and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said, “In the spirit of this year’s conference theme, Securing Our Democracy, Protecting Our Freedoms, Uplifting Our Culture, the Day of Healing grounds us in our purpose and fortifies our will to remain steadfast in our commitment to community empowerment.” On Saturday night Vice President Kamala Harris introduced President Biden during the CBC’s annual Phoenix Awards, A Black Tie event that is the highlight of the ALC. “The CBC has always been a conscience of our country, a truthteller. Truths about where we have been and where we must go,” Harris told the audience Saturday night. “Tonight, let us continue to speak truth. Across America there is a full-on attack on many of the hard-fought, hard-won freedoms that the CBC has achieved: the freedom to vote; to teach America's full history; to address inequity and diversity; to love who you love; to access education, healthcare, and economic opportunity; and the freedom of a woman to make decisions about her own body,” she said to applause. During his speech President Biden singled out a number of CBC members. He described House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries “a leader with integrity and courage. Courage. Courage.” He also pointed out Justin Jones, 28, member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, calling him "a new voice who gives us hope for the future.” The audience chuckled as Biden pointed out Hip Hop artists LL Cool J and MC Lyte in the Ballroom: “LL J…Cool J…uhh…(laughter)…By the way, that boy has got, he’s got, I think that man has got biceps bigger than my thighs…and MC Lyte.” But Biden concluded on a serious note by reminding those present that the CBC has come a long away after six decades. “In February of 1971, the year before I got to the United States Senate, 200 years ago,” he said to laughter. “13 Black members of Congress, determined to create a better future and leverage their collective strength, formed the Congressional Black Caucus, the conscience of Congress, calling us to follow our nation’s North Star; A light for the dreams and the pains of centuries of enslaved people in America.” He said the CBC was created to fight for “The idea - once the most simple and the most powerful idea in the history of the world - that we’re all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our entire lives. We’ve never lived up to that fully, but we’ve never walked away from it either.”