The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 47th Annual Legislative Conference began Wednesday at a time when racial tension, voting and overall civil rights against people of color have intensified.
One main reason for the inflamed tensions, say activists, politicians and even celebrities, is President Donald Trump.
But the hundreds scheduled to attend the more than four-day discussion at the Walter E. Convention Center in northwest D.C. will exude faith through this year’s theme, “And Still I Rise.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) told a story at a session when he embraced the son and his father, a former member of the Klu Klux Klan, at Lewis’ office on Capitol Hill. The father wanted to apology for beating Lewis in 1961 during the Freedom Rides, which sought to protest the segregation of transportation facilities that included bus terminals.
After Lewis accepted the former Klansman’s apology, all three cried and hugged.
“I think we have a capacity to change people,” Lewis said to about 100 people at a discussion he led on how to sustain hope during turbulent time. “I believe that. I’ve seen people change. I have this philosophy: We have to be hopeful. We have to be optimistic.”
April Ryan, Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks and a CNN political analyst, said she’s received death threats for her coverage of the Trump administration.
“What do we do?” she asked. “We are faced with things that we have not been faced with in a long time.”
The Rev. James Lawson, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement and fight for desegregation in the 1950s and ’60s, said the best tool of self-defense “is staying cool.”
About an hour later, dozens of Black women held a public policy forum, addressing such topics as equal wages, unionization and importance of collaboration.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) spoke bluntly about Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
“I’ve been in this [civil rights] struggle for decades, but I sure didn’t think that we could go this far back to actually elect somebody where the world is questioning his mental stability,” Bass said. “If [Trump] is impeached, then we have President Pence. I believe he’s not crazy, but is as bad as Trump is. The only knowledge [Pence] has is to send us back decades and act as though the civil rights movement and all the other movements we had didn’t even happen.”
Several other women spoke such as Tamika Mallory, co-chair of the Women’s March, who announced a Women’s Convention will take place Oct. 27-29 in Detroit.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks joined the conversation to briefly explain how the county had never elected a female prosecutor until her girlfriend helped her get elected in 2010.
“Black women are powerful … and control these elections,” she said.
When Alsobrooks told the more than 100 people in the room she had to leave and pick up her daughter and take her to a concert, nearly all the women nodded their head or mumbled, “Umm, hmm.”
“On any given day, we share more issues alike than we do different. That’s not just Black women, that’s just women,” Alsobrooks said in a brief interview after she spoke. “That’s what makes us strong.”
The conference continues through Sunday, including a town hall on civil rights and prayer breakfast Saturday with gospel artist Shirley Caesar and Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr.
For more information on the conference and a schedule of events, go to http://bit.ly/2xkpzDW.