In an attempt to provide skilled insight and dialogue about the concerns of African-Americans, TV One and the National Urban League recently paired to hold a definitive town hall-style meeting titled “The State of Black America.”
Numerous high-profile social activists, journalists and political commentators from both sides of the aisle convened at the Howard Theatre for the Tuesday, May 2 event, which was driven by the National Urban League’s semiannual edition of the State of Black America, an equality index that measures the economic and social status of black Americans in comparison to their white counterparts.
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, passionately weighed in on the importance of the event.
“Today’s discussion is really about bringing the state of black America to life and giving the community a chance to discuss the issues,” Morial said. “In addition, I hope that since we are taping the television program, that this will guarantee the beginning of elevating the data, the information, and the commentary surrounding the state of black America, to bring about more challenging discussions around the topic.”
Roland Martin, “News One Now” host and event moderator, asked guest panelists including author and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, culture critic and journalist Touré and political commentator Angela Rye to weigh in on black education, economics, the war on drugs and the prison system.
“There should be no juvenile prisons,” said Touré, who also encouraged companies to be given an employment incentive to ensure the hiring of people recently released from prison.
In terms of black economics, Rye said, “If you do not have a bank account in a black-owned bank, I encourage you to do this today.”
Another topic highlighted during the panel discussion was black Republicans’ place in the current administration and whether they are willing challenge their own political party and say to them that its current and forthcoming policies are hurting black America.
Under the Obama administration, black America experienced a drop in unemployment, an increase in high school graduation rates and access to over 15 million new jobs.
Now, under the new Trump administration, societal benchmarks such as these risk extinction.
GOP commentator and Trump surrogate Paris Dennard, who is black, responded.
“By the end of this forum, I hope that attendees understand that we have to be focused on advocacy and action,” Dennard said. “There is a train of thought that says we should not engage with the Trump administration. There is a train of thought that says that he may not be in line with what black America needs or understands.
“However, I believe that you have to have a seat at the table,” he said. “You have to engage actively and early so that our issues are on the table, because if they are not, we stand to lose. We saw what happened with the state of black America economically and educationally under Democrat control. Lord have mercy if we do not advocate and push under Republican control. We have to be vigilant and engaged but also willing to work with people that don’t look like us or share the same political party.”
Dyson encouraged citizens to begin to think critically.
“Today’s discussion is tremendously important,” he said. “We have to think critically about these issues. We have to get involved as a community with assessing where we are through an analysis based upon fact, not fiction, not fake news, not what somebody said, not what somebody invented or what some president hurled forth as an alternative universe of reality.
“We have to deal with what is on the ground and black people have to talk about education, economic disparities and how are kids are kicked out of school earlier and earlier, and why we are disproportionately concentrated on when it comes to that kind of expulsion and how we are continually fighting a law enforcement across this country that seems to be hyped up on its own implicit bigotry,” Dyson said. “Those are the things that we have to talk about and that is why it is important to have this meeting tonight.”
Though many pressing topics were addressed during the panel, one Howard University student in attendance voiced a bigger concern that millennials take home these messages too.
“Tonight’s event is so important for millennials just because it is going to give you a lot of information about the state of black America so that you can make a lot of informed decisions regarding items like politics, education and economics and just how to move forward consciously,” Kyra Azore said.
At the end of the discussion, Martin left the audience with the thought-provoking question: “What are you prepared to do?”