In a sort of rites of passage, members of the Congressional Black Caucus set the tone for the remainder of today’s Emerging Leaders Series sessions during the National Town Hall by urging us to take an active stand against the injustices we face today. Young people were applauded for attending and for taking the early steps in continuing the legacy of our forefathers.
The Emerging Leaders Town Hall meeting to “equip emerging leaders with a constructive framework and discussion centered on the tools and resources needed to stay informed and become successful advocates, activists, and policy influencers.” The two-part panel focused on economic and social justice.
Moderated by Karren Finney of MSNBC, the first panel included an array of contributors: Stephanie Brown James of Vestige Strategies; Tallahassee Mayor-Elect Andrew Gillum; Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition; Congressman Steven Horsford of Nevada; and singer, songwriter, and humanitarian Ledisi. Panelists candidly discussed policies and valuable strategies that emerging leaders should use to address economic justice. Congressman Horsford advocated for a comprehensive multi-generational effort and Mayor-Elect Gillum reminded the audience that young people cannot disassociate ourselves from our brothers who have a criminal past. He added that their difficulty and often inability to become employed impacts us all. Stephanie Brown James described economic injustice as a persistent problem and Sharon Lettman-Hicks pointed our community’s contribution to this historical issue.
The panelists summed up this portion with excellent advice, “study not only what our elders have done right but also what they have done wrong; eliminate our fear of asking questions; and reshape our circle of friends to ensure we are not enabling each other’s bad financial habits but instead raising funds collectively to support ourselves and our interests.”
Roland Martin led the second half of the town hall meeting. With social justice at the forefront, panelists immediately and enthusiastically offered their expertise. Echoing the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri in addition to the conference’s theme, “It Starts With You,” Angela Rye, founder of the event’s partner IMPACT Strategies, contended that the only way to turn moments like Ferguson into long-term movements is to be proactive instead of reactive. She argued that trying to organize after a tragedy in an atmosphere of anger has proven time and time again to be ineffective. Brandon Davis of Service Employees International Union stated that the creation of effective political infrastructure including engagement after election periods is imperative. Emerging leader Deon Jones maintained that advocacy should complement voting. Jotaka Eaddy of PayNearMe stated that emerging leaders knew the importance of participating in every election and insisted we leave our microwave mindset behind, as change worth fighting for will not be achieved overnight.
With individualism being a major philosophy for my generation, the challenge that I make to my peers is to collaboratively develop and execute a comprehensive action plan to improve the economic, social, and political status of our community. We must be charged with meeting other young people where they are; to get them excited about these conversations. We must do the homework: register to vote, advocate for our issues, and invest in our economic and political futures. In a world that is reverting back to obsolete and oppressive politics and policy, it is time for us to revert back to what Ms. Lettman-Hicks calls the collaborative economics and community of our parents and grandparents.
As one audience member remarked, the term emerging seems to increasingly describe older individuals. By referring to us as emerging, we are leaving these tasks to our future instead of our present. Our future depends on the action we take in the present. Both sets of panelists were successful in creating a sense of urgency in us in addition to a sense of the longevity necessary to affect change. Just like citizens must remain engaged after an election, we as young people must remain active not only in the fight to bring about change, but also in the critical efforts necessary to sustain change.