Nicole Austin Hillery
Nicole Austin Hillery

After a two-year interruption of in-person events due to COVID-19, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) has returned to Washington, D.C., kicking off on Sept. 28 and continuing through October 2.

Leaders of the 2022 conference – an event that marks the 51st ALC and 51 years of the Congressional Black Caucus – have chosen the theme, “Advancing Our Purpose – Elevating Our Power.”

One of those leaders, Nicole Austin-Hillery, while no stranger to ALC or to the workings of the Foundation, assumed the helm earlier this year as the new CBCF president and CEO.

Austin-Hillery brings extensive policy, legal, advocacy and media experience to the position including more than 20 years of providing leadership and strategic counsel on a range of policy issues – from civil and international human rights to voting rights and criminal justice reform.

She joins the CBCF after her previous role as the executive director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Before HRW, the Howard University School of Law and Carnegie Mellon University graduate served as the first director and counsel of The Brennan Center for Justice, Washington, D.C. office.

Austin-Hillery said she realizes there’s no time to waste as African Americans today face significant challenges – some decades in the making, others coming to the forefront more recently in our nation’s history – all of which must be confronted head-on and resolved.

“It is an honor to join the CBCF at this critical moment when strong policy and leadership development on a host of critical issues such as racial justice, economic empowerment, public safety and education will help further advance the important work of the Foundation and its impact on the Black community,” Austin-Hillery said in the press release.

In an exclusive interview, held just days before the start of the Conference with Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, Austin-Hillery shared more about the Conference and her goals.

“I’m excited about the upcoming ALC which counts as the first time we’ve gathered in person since the pandemic,” she said. “People are excited and our phones have been ringing off the hook and the emails have been popping.”

“But beyond the excitement, we realize that this is a significant moment for Black Americans, We are facing some truly critical issues that threaten the Black community. We need to provide support to our community and develop policies that will be effective in resolving the challenges which we collectively face.”

“Many people don’t realize that ALC serves as the largest Black public policy forum in the nation – one which brings together Black advocates, thinkers, grassroots folks and members of Congress together at least once a year during which we take on the task of being problem solvers.”

“This annual gathering has always been about our coming together as a Black community and having frank discussions about the issues we face. Certainly, we all like to have fun and there’s probably no conference that takes place in the District which does not include ancillary events that provide some level of fun.”

“But the genesis of the Conference and the purpose for which it is held is for us to step forward as problem solvers. We need to address the issues and then move toward finding solutions. Over the past two years, economics and health disparities have risen to the top of the list. But they were there long before COVID. However, the pandemic brought these and other issues into greater focus for the rest of the nation.”

“And there are other issues which we must address as we seek to level the playing field: reparations, debt and voting rights serve as just a few. In a season where primaries are wrapping up and with general elections taking place in November, we know America has some who hope to move into positions as tomorrow’s governors or senators who do not have the best interests of the Black community at heart.”

“Knowledge is power. And the focus of our conference remains how to fix the problems which have long thwarted the Black community. So, while we will facilitate conversations that we believe are crucial during the ALC, these conversations will continue to be held throughout the year. We’ve already gathered in Detroit and in D.C. and before year’s end we’ll be in Tulsa.”

“When the CBCF was founded in 1976 by a handful of Black members of Congress whose numbers have since grown to more than 50, it was established to serve as a leadership pipeline for Black America. Since then, we have provided research and strategic information as well as educational tools for Black Americans.”

“We remain committed to providing scholarships and fellowships for interns – young men and women [of color] who will gain significant experience while working under the tutelage of Black members of Congress. And we trust that many of those young people will emerge as the leaders of tomorrow – some as members of Congress, others as executives for major corporations or leaders for governments at the state and local levels. So, more than anything else, we continue to support the development and support of Black leadership.”

“We have a lot of important work to do on behalf of Black America. And it will take the village to get the work done,” Austin-Hillery said.

For more about the ALC and how to participate, in person or virtually, go to www.cbcfinc.org.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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