The leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and its foundation recently announced that the focus of their annual legislative conference will be on protecting and increasing the voting rights of people of color.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass is the co-chair, with Rep. Lacy Clay, of the 46th Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference.

The 46th Annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference kicked off on Sept. 14 at a press conference that took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest D.C. A. Shuanise Washington, the president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which runs the legislative conference, stressed the importance of the voting rights of Blacks.

“We have made great strides in increasing African-American voter registration and turnout, but significant barriers remain,” she said. “African Americans still face challenges from an enduring legacy of having been deprived to vote. And so, we must challenge restrictive voting measures wherever they exist.”

The co-chairs of the conference are U.S. Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Lacy Clay (D-Mo.).

“This year’s Annual Legislative Conference theme, ‘Defining the Moment, Building the Movement,’ highlights the social and political moments in American history,” Bass said. “The CBCF plays a vital role in continuing this legacy with its first-ever Voting Rights series and Black Voter Turnout Day.”

Voting rights is one of the many topics pertaining to African Americans that will be addressed at the legislative conference from Sept.14-18. CBC members will sponsor and lead issue forums and workshops on a wide range of issues such as minority health disparities, increasing government contracts for minority businesses, the state of Black women, an update on the status of HIV/AIDS and the expanding political and civic empowerment.

 

Almost all of the forums, workshops and braintrusts will take place at the convention center.

The signature annual conference events such as the Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts (Sept. 14), the National Town Hall meeting (Sept. 15), the Prayer Breakfast (Sept. 17 in the morning) and the Phoenix Awards Annual Dinner (Sept. 17 in the evening) will also take place at the convention center with the exception of the fine arts gala. The fine arts gala will take place at Sidney Harmon Hall.

The Phoenix Awards Dinner will be the last time that President Obama will give a keynote address at the event as the nation’s commander-in-chief. The president will be joined by Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary R. Clinton, members of the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina, U.S. Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Black billionaire Robert Smith, who will receive awards.

“The 2016 presidential election will be the first election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the CBC said. “It is imperative that the African-American community understands how this change may impact their ability to vote. CBCF’s Voter Protection Series is a critical step in this direction.”

The Voter Protection Series will be presented with the cooperation of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and the Judiciary Braintrust, the Voting Rights Caucus and the Voting Rights Alliance on Sept. 16 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. with such national leaders as NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks, Barbara Arnwine, founder and president of Transformative Justice Coalition and the Rev. William Barber II, executive director of the North Carolina-based Repairers of the Breach.

The foundation has on its website a voting rights toolkit that Clay said “is designed to help all citizens better exercise their right to vote.”

“The nullification of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act could have a far-reaching impact on voter turnout and, as a member of the Voting Rights Caucus, this is a concern of mine,” Clay said.

Butterfield said that high Black voter turnout could not only help a candidate win the White House but increase the numbers of the CBC.

“The way I see it now, we will have a new CBC member from Orlando, Richmond, Va., and Wilmington, Del.,” Butterfield said. “If the presidential election goes the way I hope it does in November, we may have a Black U.S. senator from Virginia in 2017.”