On September 16, 2015, the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) took a delegation of 14 local African American leaders to Washington, D.C. for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Annual Legislative Conference. Leaders in attendance included Minnesota State Senator Jeff Hayden and Representative Rena Moran, AALF Board Co-Chair Dr. Sylvia Bartley, Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, NorthPoint Health & Wellness CEO, Stella Whitney-West, Northside Job Creation Team (NJCT) Consultant Bill English, AALF board members Dr. Nkem Chirpich and Cheryl Mayberry, AALF members Michael Chaney, Catherine Fleming, Maher Abduselam, Dr. Rochelle Avent-Hassan, and AALF Executive Director Jeffrey Hassan and Executive Assistant Jackie Cooper. One of the purposes of the trip was to meet with our Minnesota metro-area Congressional representatives, let them know who we are, let them know that we want to be made aware of resources coming into our community before they get here, and to be a part of the decision-making on how those resources are distributed.
On Thursday, Congressman Keith Ellison, from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, hosted a continental breakfast for the delegation in his D.C.
office in the Rayburn House Office Building. Congressman Ellison graciously made his office and staff available for the AALF delegation, and gave us an update on legislative initiatives. He said our group was one of the largest African American delegations from Minnesota to visit our Congressional leaders in Washington, and made a strong statement for our community.
Later that afternoon, the delegation experienced the only lowlight of the trip, with Minnesota 4th District Congresswoman Betty McCollum and one of her staff members. Despite the fact that the delegation had an appointment scheduled to meet with the Congresswoman, she did not make herself available. The response from her office receptionist was rude and inhospitable, with her rolling her eyes when the AALF delegation came into the office and asked to meet with the Congresswoman for our scheduled appointment. We were then ushered out of the office into the hallway, where we met with one of the Congresswoman’s staffer. Congresswoman McCollum emerged from her office 15 minutes later and attempted to rush past the delegation without even acknowledging our presence – stating that she had to go to vote – very disappointing, to say the least.
Congresswoman McCollum’s reception stood in stark contrast to the reception we received from Congressman Ellison, and Senators Klobuchar and Franken, whom we met with that same afternoon. The delegation took the unique underground rail system from the Rayburn House Office Building to the United States Capitol Building, and then again from the Capitol Building to the Hart Senate Office Building, where we met with Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Senator Klobuchar immediately recognized many of the leaders from our delegation, and invited us into her office. Everyone introduced themselves, and the senator gave us a legislative update on the hot button issues in the Congress, including the impending budget debate and the attempt to repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Senator Klobuchar graciously accepted an acknowledgement from delegation members Michael Chaney and Catherine Fleming of Project Sweetie Pie – an urban farming initiative taking place in Minneapolis – and posed for a group photo. She then showed us many of the mementos she had gathered from her trips throughout the world.
The meeting with Senator Al Franken was equally hospitable, as he sat on the front of his desk, and listened to presentations from NorthPoint CEO Stella Whitney-West, NJCT Consultant Bill English, and AALF Education Chair Cheryl Mayberry. He then answered questions from various delegation members. He also posed for a group photo. We were excited to find that delegation member Bill English’s daughter, Amber, was a staff member in Senator Franken’s office, as Bill beamed with pride as he introduced all of us to his daughter.
On Friday, the delegation attended a CBC workshop conducted by Congressman Ellison entitled From Ferguson to $15. Ferguson, of course, referred Ferguson, Missouri, where the fatal shooting of Michael Brown took place in 2014; and, the $15 referred to the attempt in many states and municipalities to establish a $15 an hour as the minimum livable wage for workers. We were proud to see one of our own leading a discussion on these leading national topics.
Friday afternoon, the delegation went on an incredible tour of the Frederick Douglass House in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C. We watched a film depiction of his life journey, before taking a tour of the Frederick Douglass House, which is a part of the National Park Service. We learned that Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in the early 1800’s, before rising to national and international prominence in the mid to late 1800’s.
He fled from bondage to become the nation’s leading abolitionist – an advocate for the end of slavery. Douglass traveled to England to avoid capture after publication of his first autobiography in which he named his slave masters. He was greeted in England as a leading world statesman and garnered the support. Douglass did not become a so-called free man, until his first wife, Anna, who was a free woman, purchased his freedom. Douglass was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln, although he did not always agree with Lincoln’s policies. He became one of the leading advocates of the women’s suffrage (voting) movement of the late 1800’s, when both African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. In the 1880’s, he was appointed a U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia by President Rutherford B. Hayes. Douglass’s house was located on 15 acres, known as Cedar Hill, the highest point in the District of Columbia, and has a spectacular view, overlooking downtown Washington, D.C.
On Saturday, the group attended the CBC annual Prayer Breakfast, and was treated to the tremendous oratorical address by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, of Trinity Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois. Rev. Moss, a graduate of Morehouse College, told a story about the locusts’ journey to the river’s edge, where many of the first locust that arrived at the river died as they attempted to cross; but, in the process, they built a bridge across the river, so that locust that came after them could make it to the other side.
Using that metaphor, he then took the audience on a historical journey, retracing the efforts of our African American leaders, many of whom are nameless and faceless, who sacrificed their lives at the river’s edge, so that others of us could cross to the other side. He concluded, as the audience rose to a standing ovation, by taking us on a historical retrospective from Barack Obama, all the way back to the creation of the earth itself by Almighty God himself!
Saturday and the weekend concluded with a cookout at the home of former Minneapolis prodigy Malik Edwards, and his wife Narda Newby, both of whom are attorneys in Washington, D.C. The cookout was catered by Julien Hassan and his wife, Martha, with a gourmet selection of smoked meats, spaghetti, potato salad, collared greens, and blueberry cobbler – a fitting way to end an outstanding week of events and activities at the 2015 CBC.
The CBC trip is a “seed planting effort,” as part of the effort to work with all African American community leaders in Crafting a United Urban Agenda to address priorities in our community. Now comes the work of tilling and watering the soil.