(NNPA)—Although the National Urban League has been issuing the annual “State of Black America” report for 34 years, for some inexplicable reason, everywhere you look these days, some group is sponsoring a panel discussion titled the “State of Black America.” Tavis Smiley scheduled one in Los Angeles, canceled it, and then revived it in Chicago. Last Saturday, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network hosted a televised panel discussion on the State of Black America at its national convention in New York.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will be moderating a panel May 1 as part of Detroit’s Freedom Weekend activities. Marc Morial has also asked me to moderate a State of Black America discussion for the National Urban League July 28 as part of the organization’s centennial convention in Washington, D.C. I am happy to oblige Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter, and Marc Morial because I think such discussions can be useful. When it comes to any activity that keeps us focused on the important issues of the day, I count that as a plus.
But we must move beyond these separate discussions. During my semi-monthly radio appearance on “The Bev Smith Show” last Friday night, I suggested that instead of having separate-but-unequal panels, we need to have a major one jointly sponsored by all the major civil rights organizations. Instead of certain leaders loading their respective panels with their buddies, as they usually do, the head of major professional organizations should serve as co-panelists with the civil rights leaders.
Bev Smith, who has attended more civil rights conventions than she’d like to admit, said that such an arrangement would mean less talk time for the traditional civil rights leaders. That would be a good thing. They need to move beyond competing for face time on TV and take the time to face persistent problems afflicting Black America. Leaders who profess to want unity among African-Americans can set an example by demonstrating some among themselves.
A joint panel should include the presidents of the National Bar Association, the National Medical Association, National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Congressional Black Caucus, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO), National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), National Association of Black Political Scientists, Urban Financial Services Coalition and Blacks in Government, among others.
If questions arise about health disparities, political empowerment, the prison industrial complex, or education, specialists in those areas would be on hand to provide informed and thoughtful answers and recommendations. Better yet, the professional groups could each provide a “Black Paper” on their respective issues prior to the gathering. They could be questioned by a panel of seasoned journalists and civil rights leaders could sit for a second round and be questioned on how they plan to implement the recommendations.
Questioning both groups would be a pool of journalists that would include the likes of Joe Davidson, DeWayne Wickham, Roland Martin, Joe Madison, Bev Smith, Michael Cottman and Hazel Edney. The moderator could be either Ed Gordon or Gwen Ifill.
Having such a well-rounded mix of experts and journalists would provide a high-quality discussion that could lead to a far-reaching action agenda.
My second suggestion, which could work in concert with my aforementioned panel, would be for all the major civil rights organizations to hold a joint convention, perhaps five years from now. In fact, it could become a five-year ritual. The advantage of such a gathering would be a more concentrated focus on problems and less concentration on individual egos.
Other groups are already holding joint conventions. African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American journalists hold a joint convention, called Unity, every four years. Recently, Black Methodists convened the Great Gathering in Columbia, S.C. and agreed to work together on problems facing Black males. The civil rights community would do well to emulate those efforts.
Civil rights leaders—as well as the Black community—would be better served by strengthening ties with Black professional groups. For example, I have heard a couple of civil rights leaders say they are considering assembling a list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens at the end of this court term. It makes more sense for the National Bar Association to take the lead on this issue.
Mavis T. Thompson, president of the National Bar Association, has written a letter to President Obama recommending the appointment of Appeals Court Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit.
Thompson wrote, “a moderate and faithful adherent to constitutional principles of government, Judge Williams is extremely well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and has all the necessary experiences and the professional expertise to succeed Justice Stevens.” If appointed, Williams would become the first African-American female to serve on the Supreme Court.
If the civil rights community rallies behind the recommendations of the National Bar Association on judicial-related issues, behind the National Medical Association on health disparities and the National Association of Black Political Scientists on political empowerment, the State of Black America would be better than it is now.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)