The AFRO American Newspapers, in keeping with its 125th Anniversary’s year-long series of celebrations, hosted the Coalition for Blind Justice Town Hall meeting on Oct. 20 at the Howard Theatre.
The town hall meeting and panel discussion included elected officials, community leaders, media professionals, entertainers, and civil servants, interested in moving past dialogue to civic action in time for the November elections. And despite the less-than-stellar turnout – about 50 students and community members, the panelists made impassioned pleas for conscientious and informed voting.
Ras Baraka, mayor of Newark, N.J. and a Howard alumnus, echoed a thriving sentiment throughout the town hall, that despite whatever differences exist within Black communities certain key issues must be addressed in electing local and national leadership. Likening the parameters of his argument to the unification of Southern Whites around key issues in establishing citizens’ councils and the Dixiecrats, Baraka said the time had ended for reactionary voting.
“We’re at a crossroads, but we are still largely reactionary – reacting to what we see or what was done to us – instead of working with institutions and organizations that establish policies that speak to the plight of Black communities,” Baraka told the audience. “Black people need to establish what I call an urban agenda or a Marshall plan, where we are able to elevate people out of poverty by moving policy to practice . . . This is the very way that the Dixiecrats propelled millions of unskilled, Whites into the middle class.”
Other panelists included television personality Roland Martin, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, actor Laz Alonso, Georgetown law professor Paul Butler, former Brooklyn D.A. Charles Coleman, Howard biology professor Courtney Robinson, retired NBA player Etan Thomas, rapper and activist Hakim Green, D.C. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Roger Mitchell, Metropolitan Police Department Captain Randy Griffin, and Joi Brown of Atlantic Records, who, like Baraka, insisted on the ‘down the ticket’ candidates – those running for local, often overlooked offices – posed the greatest threat to undermining the interests of Black America. T.V. personality A.J. Calloway and journalist Jeff Johnson served as the moderators.
“There are down the ticket concerns that impact Black lives and the connection between public policies and national legislation, is shaped by those local officials we ignore,” Brown said. “The reality is that you shape policy or policy shapes you. Both presidential candidates are in or nearing their 70s; they may not be around to live with the decisions they make, but our kids will.”
The discussion was organized as a response to the modern Civil Rights Movement and the need for unity and participation during what has been labeled by CNN as the ‘worst election season in history.” For Yolanda Early, who attended the town hall, the idea of voting as a bloc or even unifying along core issues impacting the Black community seems logical – but only to those already civically minded.
“There are a lot of great comments and positions being raised today, but these are things the average American should be taught in a Civics 101 or U.S. Government course,” Early told the AFRO. “The fact is that we are voting for people rather than policies these days, we want to ‘like’ our candidates, instead of holding them to the fire and making sure they are accountable to their constituents.”