One of the themes that resonated in the eventful five-day State of the Black World Conference V in Baltimore last week, under the auspices of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, was something Dr. Ron Daniels, the host and President of the IBW repeated several times, and that was “making connections.”
A multitude of connections were made within a Pan-African context of “Global Africans Rising, Empowerment, Reparations and Healing.” Capturing the highlights of this powerful contingent of activists, educators, elected officials from around the world is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle.
From the opening keynote speaker P.J. Patterson, the former Prime Minister of Jamaica to the closing comments of the magisterial Dr. Julius Garvey, the son of the legendary Marcus Garvey, participants engaged in lively and illuminating exchanges as they addressed the issues and posed solutions for the common problems facing people of color wherever they live on the planet. And more than one speaker stressed the importance of global warming, climate change and environmental racism, the latter of which is often ignored.
During his remarks at the start of the conference, Patterson provided a progressive and militant insight that would be replicated, whether from African, Latin American, Caribbean, or African American panelists, “that we have an extraordinary legacy,” he said, before noting that the conference was just another solitary step in that direction of “protecting that sacred trust.”
He ruminated on the common history and struggle of those attending the conference, quoted Frederick Douglass and reminded his audience that the American Constitution or the Declaration of Independence did not include slaves in “We the People.” At the end of his speech, he offered this collective point: “I am because we are.”
Toward the end of this first day, there was a tribute to Maurice Bishop, the great leader of Grenada who was assassinated in 1983, and those seated near Don Rojas, Bishop’s press secretary and now director of communications for IBW, could see the emotions that exuded from him as they watched a brief documentary that recounted Bishop’s ascendance and fatal ending.
The Honorable Dickon Mitchell, the Prime Minister did not attend but sent a video in which he poignantly summarized Bishop’s ongoing legacy and the impact he continues to have in his country and around the world.
Day two featured a wide-ranging informative address by Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, and his remarks were a distillation of his organization’s annual State of the Black America report. While there were several recent victories, including a more than 4 percent decrease in Black unemployment rate, he said the persistence of racism and white supremacy were as debilitating as ever.
“We have witnessed Jim Crow, James Crow, and now Jimmy Crow…but we have the power and strength of the African diaspora.” He received a standing ovation after concluding that the NUL is in the fight for justice and equality until hell freezes over, “and then we will fight on ice.”
In a follow-up session chaired by noted economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the Inaugural Dean, the College of Ethnic Studies, Cal State, LA, panelists amplified some of Morial’s statements, none more enlightening than Malveaux’s as she explained the connection between economic justice and white terrorism.
This is a topic she has often discussed, and it was reminiscent of a presentation she delivered at the ACLU where she contextualized reparations in her argument. She insisted that we not ignore how economic violence impacts Black Americans and gentrification, the lack of affordable housing, and cutting “food stamps” are part of this violence.
There was a bit of commotion in the hall when Bobi Wine, the politician, activist and entertainer from Uganda arrived. Later he would address the conference, spelling out some of the challenges he has faced personally from the country’s opposition political party. During an interview with Milton Allimadi, the author and publisher of the Black Star News, Wine would play down the popularity he has garnered as a rapper, actor, and media personality.
“He wants to keep the focus on politics now,” said Allimadi, who was as ubiquitous and he was indispensable at the conference, appearing as a panelist and coordinating media coverage. During his speech, Wine assailed the former leader of Uganda, charging him with reactionary politics and aligning himself with such incipient fascists as Donald Trump.
The younger generation commanded the attention on the third day of activities with the Hip Hop Caucus as a main event. Along with a film clip of activists in the streets against police brutality, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, President of the Hip Hop Caucus, and his co-host Kim Poole, Founder/Director of Teaching Artist Institute, made some generational connections, merging some of the ideas from the past with the current Black Lives Matter movement, with the concept of “building liberated zones” in the community, Poole declared.
Minister Afiya Dawson, an IBW board member, pointed out that when “the movement is weak, the music is weak,” and vice-versa may also be the case. Shawn Patterson, the Mayor of Mt. Vernon, New York, was a fount of information and said that if we are to advance in our struggle for empowerment “we got to call our communities to order.”
On day four, after Leslie Voltaire, former minister of Haitians Living Abroad and his cohort discussed the current and historic crisis in Haiti, a subject that required its own five days of discourse, the evening was devoted to the distribution of Legacy awards, and some thirty awards in ten categories consumed the celebration.
Several of the awardees were also instrumental in the flow of the conference, most notably Mel Foote, who received an International/Pan-Africanists award; Ambassador David Comissiong of Barbados, recipient of the Reparations honor; and Kareem Aziz, the Pan-African Service award. He and Minister Dawson would be key presenters on day five, named the Closing Ndaba or “a sit-down face to face.”
But it was left to the grey eminence, Dr. Julius Garvey to put a glorious cap on the festivities, and to also reassert Dr. Daniels notion of connections among the people at home and abroad, as Dr. Garvey’s father often declared. “To connect us globally, we must master ourselves and master technology. We can shape the future with the systems we create. We must do it and yes, we can,” Garvey said to resounding applause.
For several days the applause was extended in the praise, especially for the IBW via the streaming and recording of the sessions, and Eddie Harris and his crew were as unstinting and professional as the various panelists, who pledged to carry on the work and dedication that permeated the five days that shook Baltimore!
Featured image: Jocelyn McCalla, Leslie Voltaire, Herb Boyd and Jacques Ted St-Dic (Photo by Tony Williams)