WASHINGTON, D.C. — The first Black senator in the history of Georgia and the first Black female attorney general in the history of New York State were among many thought leaders, professors, politicians and activists that took part in the annual town hall meeting during the 52nd Annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference.
Along with U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and New York Attorney General Letitia James, two of the more high profile Democrats in the news these days, civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberle’ Crenshaw, Black Economic Alliance CEO Samantha Tweedy, Congressman Steve Horsford (NV-04), Fearless Fund CEO Ayanna Parsons and Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law participated in a panel on race and racial equity.
Warnock called this year’s Annual Legislative Conference, a “family reunion” and “a call to action fortified by thought-provoking discussion.”
James, a native of Brooklyn, will be in civil court in New York next month with former President of the United States Donald J. Trump, and spoke about the disinformation and attempts to erase Black history. “We must not only push back against this racist and malicious assault on our citizenship, we must stomp it out all together.”
The topics of discussion for the first panel and the second on threats to Black American democracy were moderated by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. The author and public speaker made a number of Hip-Hop references throughout the two and a half hour town hall.
“We are living in the midst of a crisis,” he said.
Parsons also took a few moments to talk about the need to continue building wealth within the Black communities of this country. The Fearless Fund, which is based in Atlanta and has invested millions in Black female owned businesses, was recently sued by Edward Blum. Parsons said there are three things that make the world go round: money, power and love.”
“We as Black people have a whole lot of love. What we don’t have is a lot of power, and we don’t have enough money,” she said.
Tweedy used a bit of data to make a point of how wide the wealth building gap is in this country. Tweedy said the average salary of a Black college graduate is on par with the average white high school dropout. Similar data can be backed up by research that was done by the Urban Institute.
The following panel on threats to democracy featured Black Voters Matter co-founder Lastosha Brown and Tennessee state representative Justin Jones. Both spoke of keeping up the fight for equal rights and representation, both in the communities and within lawmaking spaces.
“A new south is rising that’s multiracial and multi-generational,” said Jones.
Brown, who took several opportunities to sing in between speaking about the importance of voting, said, “We can’t keep responding to what they want. I don’t care what they want.
Civil rights activist and television host Al Sharpton and music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs made appearances at the end of the discussion. “I know I wasn’t on the panel, but I am the panel,” joked Sharpton.
Harvesting fair futures for Black farmers
Later that afternoon a panel on the futures of Black farming took place. “Harvesting Change: Building a fair future for Black Farmers” was hosted by Black-owned whiskey brand Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, the National Black Growers Council and Farm Credit Mid-America, a Kentucky-based financial services company for farmers. Representatives from all three companies took the stage along side Congresswoman Shontel Brown, who moderated the panel. Brown represents Ohio’s 11th Congressional District and had a number of constituents in the crowd.
Keith Weaver, co-founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, has a distillery and farm in Shelbyville, Tennessee and spoke on the power of farming as a business model.
“There’s a viable business opportunity in farming,” Weaver said, who admitted that his farm uses 350,000 bushels of corn (or 20 million pounds) of corn per year. Farming is crucial to what his national whiskey brand does.
“There’s a misconception of agriculture,” Farm Credit Mid-America Emerging Market Business Development Manager Marcus Tyler said.
Christi Bland, a fourth-generation farmer from Sledge, Mississippi, is a board member of the National Black Grower’s Council (NBGC) and listed access to capital and access to land as issues new farmers have to face.
She shared some data the NBGC uses to make their point about the need for Black farmers to get started early. The average age of Black farmers is 57, six years older than non-Black farmers in this country, said Bland, who’s family farm is 1,600 acres.
“Black ownership matters,” said Weaver. “Without ownership they can get erased, they can get forgotten.”
Bland warned of not being educated enough on the business of farming. She shared a story of a piece of land that she had been farming that she rented. The land was sold right from under them, and everything was legal.
Organizations such as Black Soil, a seven-year Kentucky-based company that works to assist Black farmers in the state, were discussed as ways for Black farmers to get information and assistance.
“We need to keep using technology to get the message out there,” said Brown.