In 1976, the Congressional Black Caucus was still in its infancy — just five years old. And there were only 18 members, a few more than when it was founded. But even then, the group’s members had already demonstrated their ability and determination to get Washington to pay attention to their causes.
The CBC had famously boycotted President Nixon’s State of the Union just a few years earlier, after he refused to meet with the black members of Congress. (In the end, the president met with CBC members, who presented him with a list of 60recommendations for government to undertake.) CBC members even raised the prospect of preparing a Black Declaration of Independence and a Black Bill of Rights to Congress, powerful statements in a nation freshly scarred from the battles of the civil-rights era.
But among the many bold undertakings of the CBC in its early years, it is the decision in 1976 to support the establishment of a little-known policy foundation devoted to African-American issues in 1976 that ranks among the caucus’s most enduring legacies — and one that underscores the concern its members had for future generations.
One of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.’s earliest programs, the Legislative Internship Program, sought to address a problem in Congress: the dearth of black professional staff at the time — a problem that still exists today. The program provided black graduate students an opportunity to work on Capitol Hill — and continues to do so to this very day.
But the foundation has been behind an array of many more programs since, including efforts to improve access to health care for the medically uninsured; providing scholarships to deserving African-American students; expanding opportunities for students in STEM fields to participate in a China study-abroad program; offering emerging leaders internships in the private sector through our Pathways to the C-Suite program; launching a new economic summit series to expand minority access to capital in the business and technology sectors; and on and on.
All of this reflects a larger vision. The CBCF is working to ensure that all communities have an equal voice in public policy through leadership cultivation, economic empowerment, environmental sustainability and civic engagement. We achieve this mission by facilitating the exchange of ideas and information to address critical issues affecting our communities; providing leadership development and scholarship opportunities to educate the next generation of leaders; promoting public health and financial empowerment for all communities; and developing strategic research and historical resources for the public, educators and students.
Now, as we celebrate the CBCF’s founding during the 46th Annual Legislative Conference, it seems fitting and even prudent to draw lessons and even some measure of inspiration from the determination and even prescience of the CBC’s founders, especially now as we confront injustice and despair in our own time.
In fact, the annual conference will include nearly 100 issue forums and sessions aimed at provoking thoughtful discussions about the complex challenges we face, even as many of those challenges are boiled down to thirty-second sound bites in an election year.
The theme of the conference, “Defining the Moment, Building the Movement,” underscores the seriousness and even urgency that we believe these times require. In a sense, it is the same spirit that led the founders of the CBC to drive their own agenda in Washington, unapologetically and forcefully, at a time when they faced forces far more powerful than they were.
In this year when control of the White House and Congress are at stake, the ALC is a definitive call to action for African Americans to stand together to help tackle society’s most intractable problems. It seeks to build on the CBCF’s advocacy efforts to address voter suppression, police brutality and economic opportunity, and offers an environment to explore how research and analysis play a role in future policy deliberations.
I urge attendees and leaders in business, technology, politics, academia and other areas to listen, learn, and share their insights during their time with us this week.
We have an opportunity to hand down a meaningful and lasting legacy to our children and grandchildren, just as the generation before ours did for us. Let us resolve to do that.