The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) will bring several thousands to the Walter Washington Convention Center during the foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference Sept. 20-24, for panels, town halls, receptions and more to address issues facing African Americans and celebrate achievements in the Black community. As continued systemic racism, police brutality and disparities face Black Americans nationwide, the CBCF’s “A Day of Healing,” service on Saturday, Sept. 23, is a chance to tackle some of these issues with something beyond panels and sessions – prayer.
“Faith has been essential to the Black Struggle from the very beginning,” said the Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, founder of the CBCF’s Annual Legislative Conference prayer breakfast, now called “A Day of Healing.” ”Without faith, there would not have been a Civil Rights movement. Despite all of the obstacles against us with God, all things are possible and we can overcome any struggle.”
In 1981 the CBC hosted its inaugural prayer breakfast, and seated around tables at the Washington Hilton were mostly local pastors, about two dozen lawmakers at the dais, and a few hundred guests.
“There were many people who came to the Congressional Black Caucus with problems that couldn’t be solved at a workshop or a brain trust,” said Williams-Skinner, who, along with her husband Tom Skinner, co-founded the annual prayer breakfast that has grown over the years to be one the major events of CBCF weekend.
At the time the breakfast was founded, Tom Skinner was the team chaplain for what was then the Washington Redskins. In addition, he and his wife operated the Skinner Institute, which was a retreat center in Tracys Landing, Maryland.
One of the early attendees of the prayer breakfast was the Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Maryland.
“It is amazing to see how the breakfast has evolved from a small gathering of a few Congressman in a small section of the Washington Hilton, to today it is an international event that attracts thousands,” Browning told The Informer.
“The breakfast has become an inspirational event for most members of the [Congressional Black Caucus] because it takes them back to their faith roots and how God elected them.”
Browning also noted that During Reconstruction (In 1870) Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, became the first African American to be seated in the U.S. Senate and Congress.
Years later, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY), Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, was elected to Congress and served from 1945 and served until 1971.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was established in 1971 by 13 founding members.
In 1970 President Nixon signed the District of Columbia Delegate Act that gave the District one non-voting delegate to Congress.
The Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a close aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., defeated two Democratic primary opponents to be elected to Congress. Fauntroy became the nexus between the faith and the Civil Rights community and groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded by Martin Luther King.
In 1972, Rep. Andrew Young, another veteran of the Civil Rights movement, was elected to Congress and he served until 1976 when he became the U.S. Ambassador to the UN under President Jimmy Carter.
In the years that followed Reps. William Gray (D-Pennsylvania), John Lewis (D-Georgia), and others would be elected to Congress, and as the size of the CBC grew, so did the list of prominent speakers ranging from Bishop T.D. Jakes to Bishop Vashti McKenzie to the Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Williams-Skinner said strengthening the prayer breakfast has increased collective power in the Black community.
“With faith, we have been able to mount the Get Out the Vote campaigns and the voter protection campaigns,” Williams-Skinner told The Informer. “We had Faith United To Save Democracy in 2020 and we had poll chaplains in 10 battleground states.”
This year the Rev. Dr. Gina Marcia Stewart, senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, will be the guest speaker, with music provided by gospel recording artist Karen Clark Sheard.