Education and Jobs Highlight Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference

By Caryn Freeman

The Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference has brought a diverse group of activists, professionals, business leaders, policy wonks, academics, entertainers, students and media together to discuss the most critical legislative and social issues facing African American’s. Jobs, education, gentrification, ownership, political empowerment and the cradle to prison pipeline were considered the central issues and of greatest consequence to the black community. 

Wednesday’s “Black Power and the 2010 Census Changing Faces and Changing Faces in Urban Communities” sparked a discussion on gentrification. Howard grad and panelist Shani O. Hilton, a writer for the Washington City Paper discussed her views on young middle class blacks moving into the cities in her March 2011 article “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier.” The article explored young African Americans coming to grips with their role in gentrification and distinguishing weather their presence was a part of what was displacing other African Americans.

The audience also raised questions about what happens to black political power as the urban demographic changes. For elected officials the ability to make decisions about the distribution of government resources especially in cities the power to allocate of billions of dollars of public funds is at stake. Initially the drive for political power evolved from the dregs of segregation. But what are the political and racial implications of these demographic changes?  Panelist Dr. Michael Fauntroy explained the possible ramifications, “political power holds only if the constituency stays together census suggest an altered political for blacks is on the horizon,” he said.

Education, another rallying point drew large crowds with varied opinions form legislators and education advocates. The blueprint for reform seemed to be shared amongst both parties. Fostering programs that respond to current market needs such as science, technology and math. Attracting qualified teachers to urban communities that are skilled in these areas and leadership in the schools themselves. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) talked about the future job market facing the next generation, a high tech information based economy. “If you don’t get an education past high school you will not get a job in America. Under educating blacks by only to the ninth grade and then allowing them to dropout is a violation of the constitution. Get these children out of the cradle to prison pipeline and put some of the money we are spending on incarceration into education and we will get more of our children past ninth grade,” Congressman Scott told the crowd.

Another session explored the “Rise and fall and Rise Again of the Black Middle Class.” LaPhonza Butler, President of SEIU, Services Employees International Union, talked about organizing and jobs in the new economy as a way blacks will make their way back into the middle class. African Americans make 35-45% more when they are organized in a union and African Americans are more likely to join a union over any other group in the United States. She also talked about the explosion of jobs in healthcare in the next decade. How does that relate to African Americans?  Four million jobs between now and 2018 will be healthcare jobs. Americans will need to be provided care and with recent reforms it’s going to be a very different healthcare system than the system that we know today. The number of people who will be over sixty-five in the next ten years that is more than the total population of Canada. Butler serves as the youngest labor leader in the country in the second largest union in the country, SEIU.  She grew up and went to college in Mississippi. “My mom worked three jobs to put me and my two brother through school, my father died from heart attack,” she explained, “I knew what healthcare meant because my mom didn’t have any SEIU gave me the opportunity to work on behalf of women like her mother.”

Journalism and media were examined in “How Advertising in Black Media Affects Jobs.” Black journalists talked about the images depicted of African Americans in media as a reflection of laziness not necessarily racism. The panel emphasized the importance of having a relationship with the local community your reporting on. “If your reporting murders talk about the impact on the community.  The lack of commitment and research are what makes reporters and producers reach for B- roll that supports negative stereotypes,” Camille Edwards, Vice President of News at NBC 4 told the crowd. “Stupid producer news,” as one audience member described it, “adds nothing to the public discourse.” Noting that often in local news nothing is said about education, homelessness or serious health issues.
The National Association of Black Journalists, NABJ released the 2011 Diversity census report at the conference highlighting significant disparities in hiring minorities to  management positions at the nations leading news outlets. The panel encouraged young journalists to pursue management positions to help influence decisions on how images are used in an effort to reduce the perpetual use of ruinous imagery of African Americans, particularly young males.  It seems that journalists are not asking management what’s the news agenda or what's the public agenda or even where is the relevance and why we are putting on this on air? These questions are typically asked and answered by management where there is virtually no minority representation.