Last Saturday morning the wind howled, the snowflakes swirled, and my alarm clock went off at 5 am. I had set the alarm to go off even earlier than normal so I could be on time to attend Tavis Smiley’s “We Count – The Black Agenda” event at Chicago State University (CSU). I wanted to be on time to hear from all those on the panel. I wanted to hear and come away from the meeting with a clear, concise, concrete and complete agenda. And I did.
The event was definitely interesting. The panel combination of Smiley, Dr. Cornell West, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan, ex-Ald. Dorothy Tillman and others was a listen-fest for the ears. Though I could have stayed home and watched the entire event over the Internet, it’s not the same as being there. Television cannot capture the atmosphere of the crowd or show our hunger for real discussions, real solutions, real decisions and, in the end, a real agenda.
I got to CSU shortly before 7 a.m. If you haven’t seen the Emil and Patricia Jones Convocation Center, it’s a beauty. I had gone there for the first time a few weeks back for the Census concert, so I was shocked to see newly installed (or temporarily placed) metal detectors at the front door, presumably because of Farrakhan. I also had to have my bags searched.
I was taken aback when the CSU security guard allowed women from the Nation of Islam (NOI) to rummage through my possessions. Those women were not duly authorized state employees who have been fingerprinted, identified, trained and had their own backgrounds checked for criminal activity. I have written a letter of concern to Wayne Watson, chancellor of CSU, with my contention that allowing NOI women to search my bags was akin to permitting the general public to rummage through my possessions. Besides, my metal thermos full of hot tea could have held a weapon and those women didn’t have the knowledge to detect it, or even the curiosity to open it, so their actions were more show than security.
Smiley started the discussions by placing a cube labeled with the word “Love” on the table, which set the tone for both the individuals on stage and those in the audience. If there were to be disagreements, it could be done without being disagreeable (which is why I held my protest about the NOI women acting as security until I could pen a letter). And it worked – a lively four-hour conversation with things said that needed to be said. Because the discussion was vast and was so much to take in, I didn’t take notes because I wanted to be in the moment and not just a reporter of it.
Since returning home, I re-watched the entire conversation and found that what was good in person was even better replayed. Individuals put information on the table that may make others uncomfortable, but it was factual, not just suppositions. The black community cannot afford – no matter who is seated at the head of the White House table – to not put forth our agenda. And what is that agenda? It’s the one that has already been defined in Smiley’s 2006 book, The Covenant with Black America.
The covenant has a 10-point agenda that is as valid today under Obama as it was when the book was first published under Bush. The 10 points are: Health care, Education, Criminal Justice, Police, Affordable Housing, Voting, Rural Development, Economics, Environment and the Digital Divide.
My only criticism of the event is that it didn’t have a single male under the age of 30 on the panel. That’s the age group with the most unemployed. They commit the most killings. They are the ones most often killed, the ones going to jail, dropping out of school and in need of the most intervention.
I love and respect President Obama. But I love and respect the rest of black people more. We must force him to do for us and address our issues the same way other groups are pushing forward to get their issues addressed. We cannot afford to allow this opportunity to pass by, sitting back and waiting. We are the only group of people who didn’t immigrate to this country. We are the only group that had laws made so we couldn’t participate. As the conference stated, “The black agenda is the American agenda.”