Barbara Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, serves as a guest panelist during the sixth annual Stateswomen for Justice Luncheon at the National Press Club in northwest D.C. on March 31. PATRICIA LITTLE
Barbara Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, serves as a guest panelist during the sixth annual Stateswomen for Justice Luncheon at the National Press Club in northwest D.C. on March 31. PATRICIA LITTLE

Hundreds Attend ‘Urgency of Now’ Luncheon

A capacity crowd attended a recent luncheon in Northwest that addressed issues facing African-American women and the numerous challenges facing the nation as the upcoming presidential election draws near.

Sponsored by veteran journalist Hazel Trice Edney, “The Urgency of Now: Seizing Our Power to Survive and Thrive” stateswomen for justice luncheon, held at the National Press Club, also recognized the 189th anniversary of the Black Press and Women’s History Month.

Panelists included: Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist, author and former president of Bennett College for Women; Barbara Arnwine, founding president, Transformative Justice Coalition; Melanie Campbell, president/CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener, Black Women’s Roundtable; and Janice L. Mathis, recently-elected executive director, National Council of Negro Women.

April Ryan, White House Correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief, American Urban Radio Networks, moderated the Thursday, March 31 event.

Rep. Donna Edwards, a candidate for the U.S. Senate for the state of Maryland, made a surprise appearance in support of the event.

“It’s good to be in a room filled with enlightened Black women and men,” said Edwards who noted that it’s been 23 years since Carol Mosely Braun represented Illinois as a member of the U.S. Senate (1993-1999) – the first Black woman to bear that distinction in America’s history.

“Statistics show that Black women vote more often and at a higher rate than any other demographic — and we tend to support progressive politics,” she said. “As one of my sheroes [Shirley Chisholm] once said, ‘if they don’t make a seat for us at the table, we need to bring a folding chair.’”

Arnwine said she hoped that the comments shared at the luncheon would be carried back to local communities.

“The urgency of now is that we have 100 million Black women living in the Americas – and we must raise our voices collectively to say ‘no more’ to the increasing number of killings of Blacks by police officers,” she said. “Seventy percent of deaths at the hands of the police are Blacks. We’re seeing the longtime legacy of the Fugitive Slave Law being played out in new, creative ways.”

“We must demand a restructuring of this country’s law enforcement and a movement away from the re-enslavement imperative which we see played out in the prison industrial complex. Democracy is not just about voting – it’s also about holding officials accountable,” she said.

Black women still facing daunting statistics in areas that include health, education, entrepreneurship, economic security and political leadership that Arnwine and other panelists said should guide our choices for elected officials to enact sensible and more equitable policies.

Consider the following which bear out in more specific statistics: one in four Black women are uninsured; the level of educational attainment for Black women has risen very slowly and still sits at a significantly lower level than that of white women; Black women-owned businesses continue to grow despite significant financial and social obstacles; Black women continue to have higher rates of unemployment than white women and have lower amounts of weekly usual earnings and media wealth compared to their male counterparts and white women – making them more vulnerable to poverty and its implications; and while Black women have a rich history of leadership in their communities, they are underrepresented in all levels of government.

Malveaux, who recently penned a book of essays entitled “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy, described the political races of 2016, both local and national, as critical and in many cases, “clear attacks on women of color.”

“We will elect our 45th U.S. president in less than 10 months. We have candidates like Donald Trump who think it’s appropriate to punish women who have abortions. We must ask all of the candidates questions, no matter what office they’re seeking. With Obama, we didn’t bring our plates to the table so Blacks didn’t get fed,” she said.

“We cannot allow Republicans to hold up the process of securing a ninth Supreme Court justice because they [justices] live ‘forever.’ We have work to do,” she said.

Malveaux shared an encounter with a young Black woman that she said peaked her anger to new heights.

“She walked up to me and bragged that she didn’t vote,” Malveaux said. “I wanted to slap her. We must vote – even with imperfect candidates. We give up our own power if we don’t go to the polls. What I’ve learned in my life are three things that I want to share: 1) Everyone brown is not down; 2) Every progressive does not seek progress; and 3) When we have unprecedented opportunities, like electing someone like Donna Edwards to the U.S. Senate, we must take advantage of them,” she said.

Mathis said that while the messages of yesterday, gleaned from Black women and men leaders remain relatively the same, what has changed are the methods to disseminate those messages.

“Blacks have so little knowledge when it comes to the importance of the Supreme Court and the power that they have over our lives,” she said. “In addition, as we go to the polls this year, it will be the first time in decades that we won’t be protected by the Voting Rights Act. We live in potentially dangerous times. We can ill-afford to sit on the sidelines.”

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Dr. Julianne Malveaux

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women. She is an economist, author and commentator who’s popular writings have appeared in USA Today, Black Issues in Higher Education,...

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