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The annual Congressional Black Caucus conference, 2011


While Hollywood has recently been celebrating the Emmys, and speculating about Oscar nominations, the 41st annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s coordinating and hosting of the gathering of the nation’s Black elected officials is back on display in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21-24. This year’s event, in a bow to the new austerity sentiments, is a bit shorter by two days than previous CBC get togethers.

In many ways, it is the Black community’s political Emmys-Oscars-Tonys-Cobys all rolled into one. Clearly, it is a continuing fashion parade and a series of parties, luncheons and just putting on the dog for a lot of people. Certainly, there are photo opps and purple carpet encounters galore, with a rolling series of quotes, off-color remarks and general zaniness to keep folk interested. There is just a yearly sparkle and pizzazz provided by this gathering of the political and social clan that intrigues as much as it frustrates.

The intrigue is dominated by who comes, is seen, and who is not. President Obama, for example, while still candidate Obama, came and posed for pictures a few years ago with a wide swath of people showing his very charming side. Virtually all sorts of political analysts, newspaper publishers, economists, job and favor seekers, interns looking for placements, etc., regularly are there.

The frustration present is always a reminder of the limited range and scope of CBC influence in Washington getting legislation passed and Black community-beneficial things done. It is, without a doubt, a great and fun gathering each year, and it is the place to be for a bit. How much actually gets done though depends entirely on what one is seeking and how many meetings and luncheons one is willing to attend to achieve it.

There are awards ceremonies, leadership affairs for the new CBC chair, Emmanuel Cleaver, seminars on emerging youth, female and arts leadership, national town halls, gospel extravaganzas, jazz concerts, conversations with the CBC founders, roundtables with elected officials and faith leaders, a CBC spouses confab and health fair, a continuing open exhibit of CBC accomplishments, etc. With pep pills in hand, and a strong willingness to run from one venue to the next, one can see a lot of the buildings in the North Capitol corridor and shake a lot of hands. It is an effective tourism-by-meeting event in that regard. There is even a CBC film series, this year featuring Robert Townsend’s “In the Hive.”

The real action, however, is in the panel and seminar sessions. If one is truly seeking an answer to exactly what the CBC is up to and what do individual members want to focus on, poring through and prioritizing attendance at the long list of free public presentations is the way to go.

On Tuesday, for instance, even before the official CBC opening, there was a TransAfrica and CBC series (three different panels all within five hours) on the State of the African Diaspora and the coming election cycle. This was held in one of the U.S. Senate conference rooms adjacent to an on-going Senate sub-committee hearing on the U.S. budget.

On the first day of the conference, the Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series, also held annually during the same week as the CBC Conference and tangentially tied to it, is presenting a relatively complete evaluation of the current effort to organize the African Diaspora, to join the African Union, and whether to launch a national campaign to support Congressman Bobby Rush’s H.R. 656 legislation. And on Friday, Africa Subcommittee ranking member Donald Payne (California’s Karen Bass is also on this subcommittee) is having a six-hour Brain Trust discussion about how deeply involved in the movement for linking Africa and its Diaspora the CBC will get.

Right-on for the right-on with the CBC Conference. In some ways, yes, it must be admitted, it is a waste of time on too much talking, eating and partying. On the other hand, for one seeking serious business–debate, clear political positions and directions or networking–the annual CBC get-together is really worth its salt. No political player-hating needed here, so none given.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank, still operates and meets every fourth Friday.

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