BY DOSHON FARAD
NEWARK, NJ- For those of us who may not be old enough to remember the Pan Africanist conferences organized in the 1940s by W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, the State of the Black World Conference (SOBWC) organized by the Institute of the Black World (IBW) was the perfect place to be last week.
As the Black community appears to still be under siege- i.e. racial profiling, police shootings-a half a century since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, what better time to hold such a event?
From November 16-20 activists, celebrities, scholars, and many foreign dignitaries assembled in Newark, NJ at the city’s historic Robert Treat Hotel to discuss the status of Blacks across the world. The conference’s theme was “It’s Nation Time Again” stressing the need for Blacks across the globe to see themselves as part of one community. It was live streamed on WBAI FM, XM Radio host Mark Thompson’s show, as well as C-SPAN.
This year’s gathering was held in honor of the late poet and playwright Imamu Amiri Baraka -father of current Mayor Ras J. Baraka -who helped organize the first Black Power Conference in the city nearly fifty years ago. It featured plenary sessions, workshops, and two (2) town hall meetings. One focused on Reparations and the other on the Presidential election. And during its final day, attendees were privileged to hear keynote addresses by Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan and Kwanzaa Founder Dr. Maulana Karenga.
Many prominent figures were in attendance such as Mayor Baraka, historian Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Essence Magazine Founder Susan Taylor, President of the University of the West Indies Sir Hillary Beckles, Economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux, and actor Danny Glover, who played a major role in the planning of the conference including the opening ceremony.
The State of the Black World Conference was actually the fourth one that was held since 1994. Since that time it has taken place every four years intentionally several days after the presidential election to assess the global status of Blacks.
In a prior statement, conference lead organizer and IBW President Dr. Ron Daniels said, “A key goal of the conference is to assess the state of Black progress since the last conference and the impact of the 2016 election in terms of prospects for the future.”
The gathering focused on seven key areas: 1. Pan Africanism & Reparations. 2. Religion, Spirituality & Liberation. 3. Culture & Education for Black Survival & Development. 4. Economic Development. 5. Mobilizing Hip Hop and Cultural Workers. 6. The War of Drugs’ affects on the Black family. 7. Sustaining and Enhancing the Black Family.
And each session discussing these subjects featured prominent scholars and experts giving possible strategies that could implement them in the daily lives of people of African (black) worldwide.
The atmosphere of the hotel was highly charged to say the least as over three thousand people arrived for the purpose of improving the plight of the global Black community.
In attendance was National Urban League President Marc Morial who participated in one of the workshops. He was very enthused by what he saw. “This conference being true to Ron Daniels’ vision is about identification of problems and discussion about community based solutions. Every session I had an opportunity to visit was about sharing solutions about the problems that the report identifies. This conference for many many years has brought together activists, community leaders, educators, some elected officials who really want to rebuild Black communities across the nation.”
This year, Morial’s organization put out its fortieth annual “State of Black America” report that gave quite an unfavorable assessment. He addressed the conference’s potential in assisting the black community. “We want to bring jobs and economic empowerment back. So I think this conference is going to really leave people with fresh ideas and stimulated and ready to go back to their local communities and fight the battle.”
For well over thirty years Hip Hop’s role in the Black liberation struggle has been discussed and debated. Hip Hop artist Jasiri X who served as the conference’s Hip Hop Ambassador explained the genre’s importance. “I think Hip Hop is the soundtrack for the Revolution and of young people. Its a great tool to get the message out. What are the next steps? I feel like Hip Hop artists are really spokesmen for our generation and communities. And we can really began to speak to those issues globally.”
Youth outreach was definitely a top priority. 21-year-old Morgan State University Senior Ms. Ashley Gaddy was very excited about attending her first SOBWC. “I’m glad that it’s addressing certain issues that affect the Black community as a whole and I’m glad that there are many different brilliant minds here to share there opinions, thoughts, and suggestions to further rectify whatever issues that plague us right now. So far I’m enjoying it.”
Many Black studies scholars following in the tradition of such greats as Dr. John Henrik Clarke participated in discussions focusing on self reliance and Afrocentric education. The Chair of Howard University’s African-American Studies Department Dr. Greg Carr was one of them. “Everyone here is a cultural worker, a political activist, someone who’s a long distance runner. An academician. And so just being in the same space allows people to connect and network. It allows us to plan collectively and to pool our resources. We have people who are doing legislation.”
Dr. Carr who has lectured extensively on strong Black coalitions explained, “We have people who are building independent institutions , we have people who are spreading culture and Hip Hop, family, and policy. So when you put all of that together we end up with something very powerful.”
Patrice McKinney who is the co-owner of downtown Newark’s “Source of Knowledge” bookstore told us about the importance of economics which was another strongly emphasized area of the conference. “I feel ecstatic. the energy here is fantastic. It’s so much knowledge even walking the hallways. The vendors are beautiful. I”m supporting everybody. Everybody is supporting me. This is a necessity. Economically we do need to come together.
Washington, D.C. journalist Nataki Kambon who moderated the “Economic Empowerment” workshop gave very positive thoughts as well. “The State of the Black World Conference is absolutely outstanding. Just to be in a space that is well organized with all of these great black scholars convening in all of these different plenaries. And to have the opportunity for individuals regardless of where they are in life to be able to come together with some of these brilliant scholars and roll up our sleeves and work together around solutions is just absolutely priceless. The plenary sessions were just a lot of information. And then the work sessions are really an opportunity for us to create solutions and hold ourselves accountable which is something that I think at this time in history we’re all looking for solutions, accountability, and we’re all looking to change the state of the black world. So I definitely appreciate the IBW and the organizers of the State of the Black World Conference for bringing us all together and giving us this platform and opportunity to make a long term sustained change.”
I’M Manu El:Bey Universal who is the Director of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition in Syracuse New York gave his thoughts. “Dr. Daniels said ‘It’s Nation Time again’ I would like to see what type of structure will be put in place for building a nation. For me it’s the youth that should be here participating in this event more so than us elders.”
Milwaukee educator and activist Ms. Janette Harrera attended the Reparations workshop. We asked her if the Reparations campaign was still necessary. “I think the repairing of a people is important. We have an identity crisis. We don’t know our language our culture. So it’s important to me personally because I’m a direct descendant of enslaved great grand parents who never got paid any monetary gain and so I take everything personally. And I’m so dedicated to reparations. We have to look at something that is tangible which is land. So when I come to these conferences I want people to understand that. It covers so many multitudes we are damaged in many ways holistically so we have to look at everything that was done to us. I’m so happy that its global . It is all of us making sure that it happens. We’re pressed for time. We don’t have time to waste. We need to start implementing what we’re talking about.”
WCHE AM host Everett Tija Butcher who traveled from West Chester, Pennsylvania explained the role he felt Black media plays. “It plays a very integral part especially in this day and time with social media. True information is the media’s responsibility. And we need to get to the issues at hand in their fullness. Its going to take the black media to do so, because without the black media our community is not going to receive what they need to get.”
IBW Chairman of the Board of Director Rick Adams expressed enthusiasm. “This conference was amazing if you weren’t here you missed it. We had some of everybody here from Susan L. Taylor to Minister Louis Farrakhan. It’s great when we can come together dialogue and discuss our issues. Not just discussing them but finding solutions. It was great. I definitely enjoyed it.”
Newark native Ms. Wilhemena Holder said “I am so glad to be in attendance not just today but every day of the conference. I believe what we need to do is execute the plan and come together as a community. We’ve got some great ideas. We have some energy in the room and we need to capture that moving forward as a nation.”
John Jay College Professor Dr. Tyrene Wright who is author of the book, Booker T. Washington, Africa, and The Making of a Pan Africanist said the SOBWC reminded her of the Pan Africanist Conferences organized in the 40s by Washington and W.E.B. Dubois.
“It was awesome, something that is rare, timely, and much needed. This conference brought together many factions many histories many people but we’re unified as Africans and that’s what is so important. Honestly it should have been called the State of the African World Conference because we’re really African people . It was very effective. We have one purpose.”
IBW President and conference lead organizer Dr. Ron Daniels was very satisfied at what he felt was a very successful meeting. “It was a great gathering and it exceeded expectations in terms of the richness of the inter-generational connectivity of it. It was wonderful seeing people coming together learning and sharing with each other and coming out with outcomes that they can go back to there communities and work on. Now the challenge is to strengthen the capacity of the Institute of the Black World-21st Century which is one of the objectives. A key objective is to in fact be able to be the facilitator and resource center for our community worldwide because that’s what its about. Its not about me. Its about the process and the struggle.”
Conference organizers said their will be smaller follow up meetings in the weeks to come.