Last month I participated in the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Convention in Washington, DC. As stated in my previous blog, the CBC ALC is always my favorite convention of the year! This year Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) requested me to moderate his session “Blacks and Latinos: Our Quest for Civil Rights.” Of course, it was my pleasure to moderate for him again this year.
Although the specific topic has always differed, Congressman Johnson has organized several sessions focused on African American and Latino relations for previous CBC conventions. In fact, each of his sessions have made a significant impact on attendees, having generated ideas, promoted dialogue and fostered relationships. I commend Congressman Johnson for creating a platform for leaders and organizations to come together to address important issues within our communities and nation.
As always, Congressman Johnson and his staff assembled a distinguished group of panelists to share their expertise, suggestions and strategies. (I would like to give a special shout out to staff member Alem Tewoldeberhan for all of his efforts in organizing the session and making it a tremendous success.) Remarkably, this year the panel represented every sector of our society—public, private and nonprofit:
- Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, DeputyVice President, National Council of La Raza
- Donald Cravins, Executive Director of the Washington Bureau, National Urban League
- Hernando Viveros Cabezas, President & CEO, Afro Columbian Global Initiative
- Guesnerth Josue Perea, Director of Communications, Afro Latino Forum
- Alejandra Y. Castillo, National Director, US Department of Commerce/Minority Business Development Agency
- Carol Frazer Haynesworth, Founder, Flourish and Bloom Entertainment
- Kevin F. Gilbert, Executive Committee, National Education Association
As experts in their fields, each panelist contributed immensely to the discussion on how African Americans and Latinos can work together to create positive social change. Although there were many suggestions, below are my top ten takeaways from the discussion.
- The African American and Latino communities must change the way we initiate the discussion when we attempt to build relationships between our communities. Instead of beginning the discourse with outlining our common problems and challenges, we should begin by emphasizing our collective achievements and accomplishments. For example, we could focus on highlighting successful former and current collaborations. By starting the conversations on a positive note, we will alter our communities’ perceptions and attitudes about coalition building. As a result, our communities will be in a better state of mind and position to explore how we can continue on this productive trajectory.
- African Americans and Latinos must understand the magnitude of developing relationships between our communities. Neither the African American nor the Latino communities are monolithic. We each have multiple differences within our communities, reflected in the fact that neither all African Americans nor all Latinos have the same social, cultural, economic or political histories, experiences, backgrounds or beliefs. By beginning with this clear and indisputable fact, our communities will realize that building relationships with each other can potentially be hard work. As a result of this understanding, we won’t give up so easily when our communities experience difficulties as we build relationships and learn how to work together.
- African Americans and Latinos must redefine identity. Racial and ethnic classifications, specifically how we define ourselves and each other, cause and promote fissures between our communities. African Americans and Latinos, therefore, must evaluate, analyze and redefine racial and ethnic classifications. This includes challenging our own beliefs as well as the racial and ethnic classifications used by the US Census Bureau.
- There are a variety of issues that the African American and Latino communities can begin immediately to address together. The panelists identified and discussed multiple issues facing both the African American and Latinos communities. The consensus among the panelists, however, was that the following are currently some of the key issues where our communities can create synergy and work together to make a significant impact:
- Education, specifically, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
- Voter registration, Education and Get Out to Vote efforts
- Economic empowerment
- Police misconduct and criminal justice reform
- Each of us must be the example in leading the effort to build relationships between the African American and Latino communities. As leaders within our organizations and communities, we each must do what we can where we are to cultivate relationships and foster coalitions. Progress occurs through individual effort as well as collective effort.
- The African American and Latino communities must exercise our power as consumers. We must support and invest in minority-owned businesses, and we must renounce and repudiate businesses that do not support our communities or interests. Money talks.
- African Americans and Latinos must encourage minority-owned businesses within our communities to participate in the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Inclusive Innovation Initiative (I-3). The MBDA I-3 is a national outreach effort established to increase the participation of minority business enterprises (MBEs) and minority-serving institutions in the national federal laboratory network. The initiative focuses on expanding opportunities for MBEs and students of color in the development of innovative business solutions, particularly in emerging industries. One of the expected outcomes of this initiative is to create an eco system for MBEs and students of color within the STEM industry.
- African Americans and Latinos must strive to be global citizens by forging international relationships with communities of African descent in other countries. The United Nations has established 2014-2024 as the Decade of people of African Descent. In proclaiming this Decade, the international community recognizes that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights should be promoted and protected. African American and Latino leaders and organizations can become engaged in this effort by supporting the initiative’s strategies and action plans. In addition to becoming involved in the UN initiative, the African American and Latino communities should work toward establishing Pan-African solidarity by forming coalitions among continental Africans. Through these coalitions international communities can develop a common agenda with respect to the following issues: recognition; justice; equitable development; human and civil rights; voting rights; land rights; non-discriminatory access to education, employment, health care, and housing as well as reparations for slavery.
- African American and Latino leaders and organizations should work together to design a 100-Day Plan of action to address critical issues affecting our communities and submit it to the new US Presidential administration for implementation. African American and Latino leaders and organizations have the expertise to create such a plan and should work together to develop it. All we need is the political will to do so.
- Every individual must ask himself/herself, “What will I do?” If our communities are going to be successful in building and developing African American and Latino coalitions and partnerships, each of us have to stop looking for someone else to make the difference; we must make the difference ourselves. Each of us can do something. Change occurs one person at a time.
- Blacks and Latinos: Our Quest for Civil Rights, YouTube video, posted by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
- Blacks, Latinos Face Common Issues, by James Wright in afro.com
- Blacks and Latinos: Our Quest for Civil Rights, YouTube video, posted by wn.com
- Representative Hank Johnson (GA-04) honorary host of CBC ALC panel on Blacks and Latinos: Our Quest for Civil Rights, in blacknoir.nyc