Hoping to draw attention to minority issues heading into November, black leaders from around the country will huddle Thursday with Members of Congress in a major summit that they hope will highlight a need for change in the White House.
The second annual African American Leadership Summit is expected to draw more than 200 participants to the Hill, including dozens of Senators and House Members. It is being hosted by Rep. and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y).
The one-day session, called “From Brown to the Ballot,” will focus on major domestic priorities including health care, education and jobs.
“The summit is important so that legislators — Members of the House and Senate — will be clear as to the concerns and the desires of African American leaders from across the country,” Cummings said.
Cummings added that the timing of the summit couldn’t be more critical, given that the presidency hangs in the balance in an election that’s just four months away. He added that while black voters are the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party and will be key to a John Kerry victory this fall, their participation in the election must not be taken for granted.
The summit, Cummings said, will emphasize to leaders both here and across the country that minority input on key issues before the election is as important as their output, from voting to raising money.
“We need to remind leaders that they are being heard, and that Members of Congress are trying to take their wishes and turn them into legislation,” he said.
“We could not be doing this at a better time,” Cummings added. “It is before the election when agendas are still being hammered out with regard to Kerry and Edwards.”
The summit comes just days after President Bush opted against speaking at the NAACP annual conference.
Also participating in the African American Leadership Summit are former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Democratic operative Donna Brazile (who is also a Roll Call contributing writer) and Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
“My Democratic colleagues and I are committed to making the necessary long-term investments to ensure equality and opportunity for all Americans, from our schools to our workplaces,” Pelosi said in a statement. “And as we do, we will fight to protect the right to vote against any attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act. Every vote counts, and every vote must be counted.”
“I am proud to convene the Second Annual African American Leadership Summit,” Daschle added in a statement. “This will be an important opportunity to discuss our shared goals of how to improve our schools, create good-paying jobs, help small businesses, and protect the civil rights and voting rights of every American. With enormous challenges facing us, I look forward to a day of serious dialogue with leaders from across the country.”
Cummings said he will consider the summit a success if turnout is high, if participants walk away with a better understanding of minority priorities and if they find themselves wanting to turn those priorities into policies.
“This is about two groups of people interacting to create an agenda sensitive to the concerns of African American people,” Cummings said.