OAKLAND, Calif. - A who's who of leaders in the African American community came together with hundreds of community members at Laney Community College Feb. 23 for a symposium, "Making Connections: Strategies and Outcomes for our Black Community," including public safety, Black health and wellness, job creation and workforce development, intergenerational relations and more.
The opening plenary, "A Look into the Black Community: Where we have been, where we are, where we are going," featured a keynote by U.S. Representative Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
"We must never forget the revolutionary movement of the Black Panther Party which really set the stage for institutional and structural change," Lee told the audience. Lee, who worked with the BPP in the early to mid-1970s - pointed out that among now-broadly accepted Panther initiatives, many now with government funding, are free breakfast programs for children, community health clinics, voter registration and voter empowerment programs.
"What I'm dealing with now in Congress today has to do with all those issues our communities have been dealing with for decades," she said. "And the Congressional Black Caucus, 42 members strong, continues to be the voice of conscience for the African American community, communities of color, and low-income communities around the country."
As a Budget Committee member and the only African American woman on the House Appropriations Committee, Lee said, she deals constantly with issues of funding priorities. "Are we going to continue to fund building prisons, or building schools? Will we fight to build houses and create jobs, or continue to build bombs and missiles? We have to re-engage in our movement for peace and for justice."
Panelists including former Black Panther Party leaders Elaine Brown and Bobby Seale, education consultant and former Oakland School Board member Greg Hodge, and Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights emphasized the urgency of stepped-up fight-back against racism today, including the "new Jim Crow" of the prison-industrial complex.
A panel on public safety bringing together civil rights attorney John Burris and Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan with pastors Michael McBride and Zach Carey and community representative Robin Bonner emphasized the importance of early childhood and primary school education and development of a social safety net in crime prevention. Seeing crime as a public health and mental health issue opens paths for prevention, panelists and audience members said, while restorative justice makes it possible to cope with nonviolent negative behavior without involving the judicial system.
The symposium, sponsored by Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, marked the second African American Organizations Making Connections program. The first took place in 2010.
Among nearly 50 partner organizations were several churches including Allen Temple Baptist Church, True Vine Ministries and Center of Hope Church. Also, the Oakland and Berkeley NAACPs, the Black American Political Action Committee, and the Alameda County Medical Center, Public Health Department, and Social Services Agency.
Photo: U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee addresses the plenary. Marilyn Bechtel/PW