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The State of the Black Union
By Yussuf Simmonds (Managing Editor)
Published March 5, 2009

It began in Los Angeles 10 years ago and has returned after traversing around the country annually.

Last Saturday, Tavis Smiley hosted the 10th Annual State of the Black Union at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The event brought together a broad selection of intellectuals in America to discuss the conditions that exist primarily in Black America and to offer solutions to problems, many of them centuries old. Thousands of Angelinos convened downtown along with some of the best and brightest African-American thinkers to air their concerns for Black communities throughout the country with the backdrop of having the first African American in the White House. The event was divided into two different panels consisting of leading luminaries from all walks of life and it was covered live by C-Span.

The morning session featured Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Harvard Law Professors Charles Ogletree and Stephanie Robinson, motivational speaker Les Brown, Brown University Professor Tricia Rose, former talk show host Iyanla Vanzant, former N.J. Attorney General Peter Harvey, Washington Post finance journalist Michelle Singletary, Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson, and Urban League President Marc Morial.

Professor Dyson led a spirited discussion about the racial atmosphere that still prevails in some parts of the country despite those who use the election of President Barack Obama to imply that all is well. Congresswoman Waters and Rev. Jackson highlighted the disparity that exists in the financial marketplaces relative to predatory lending and college loans respectively. And the most moving personal story was the tragic experience that was shared by Vanzant who at one time was on top of the world but fell from grace, eventually losing her home.

Smiley hosted the afternoon session that included the newly-named Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, Professors Cornel West and Na'im Akbar, Bennett College President, Julianne Malveaux, Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell, Sr., Environmentalist Van Jones, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Obama youth organizer Erica Williams, African-American Images founder Jawanza Kunjufu and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Steele seemed to be out-of-place having received a somewhat cool reception since his new position have had the unintended reaction that he is being used by the conservative right to neutralize President Obama who addressed the convention via video satellite. Professor West also seemed to counter Steele's "honorary" position by pointing out that President Obama won the election because the "Southern Strategy" of alienating Black people was no longer a valid tactic.

However, Smiley was able once again to assemble some of the great Black minds to produce a day full of informative and thought-provoking discussions that provided inspiration to impressionable young minds.



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