Sunday, February 11, 2007

Essay 1691

From The Associated Press…


Panel says that black America is adrift

By Dionne Walker, Associated Press

HAMPTON, Va. -- Beneath an oak tree on the campus of what is now Hampton University, historians say, Virginia blacks heard a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and began to dream of a better life.

On Saturday, more than 8,000 people returned to the historically black university to chart how far they have come. They gathered for the “State of the Black Union,” an annual traveling town hall that is considered a barometer for black America’s ills.

This year’s conference coincides with the 400th anniversary of the nation’s first permanent English settlement, Jamestown. Africans arriving in Virginia in the years following that milestone in American history faced enslavement and entrenched racism.

Today’s black Americans grapple with political apathy, limited business strength and a lack of motivation, a panel of black leaders said Saturday.

“We need a big idea that unifies us all,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the nation’s first Muslim congressman. Ellison was on the panel that included Rev. Al Sharpton and former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor, currently mayor of Richmond.

They spoke of a black America adrift. Black males are more common in prisons than on college campuses, they said. Black children, meanwhile, are increasingly born into single-parent homes. “A lot of us have lost the dignity that our community has shown from Jamestown to now,” Sharpton said.

Others pointed to a lack of personal responsibility among blacks who, they said, were too busy waiting for leadership to make change.

“I didn’t have to wait for people to tell me it was my time to run for governor--it was my time,” Wilder said, encouraging other blacks to take similar initiative. “We can’t stop here.”

During the discussion, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. The announcement drew mixed reactions from the panelists, with some questioning why Obama has drawn such strong support from whites. Others said it was irrelevant to the conference’s goals.

“Quite frankly it’s too early to talk about a presidential campaign,” Wilder said. “What we should be doing is talking about what we do in our own home.”

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