Leadership Summit Is Just a First Step for the Future of Black Americans

By Freeman, Gregory | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

Leadership Summit Is Just a First Step for the Future of Black Americans


Freeman, Gregory, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ONE NEEDN'T LOOK HARD this year to realize that the concerns of African-American voters are barely being addressed by Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and Ross Perot.

While GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp has made a few overtures to black voters, their concerns are not very high on this year's political totem pole.

Benjamin Chavis, head of the National African American Leadership Summit, hopes to change that between now and Nov. 5, when voters go to the polls. Beyond that, he says, he wants those concerns to be part of the political dialogue for a long time to come. It's his hope that this weekend's black political convention at the Trans World Dome is a first step toward making those concerns heard, nationally and locally. For a little background: The summit organization grew out of Chavis' tenure as executive director of the NAACP. Chavis - perhaps to the consternation of some NAACP board members - began organizing conferences of black leaders nationwide in 1994 to discuss and help set a direction for the organization. The idea behind it was to coordinate the efforts of the NAACP and other black groups to tackle problems in a more organized fashion than before. After being ousted by the NAACP for taking steps to settle a sexual harassment suit filed against him by a former employee - a settlement taken without the NAACP board's knowledge - Chavis continued his organizing efforts, allying himself with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. The two formed the National African American Leadership Summit and worked together to organize last year's successful Million Man March. Chavis says many of the groups in different cities - such as churches, mosques and fraternities - have continued working together, albeit loosely, getting blacks registered to vote. On Friday, he announced that his organization had registered 1 million new voters. The city with the largest number of new registrations, he said, was Atlanta, with an estimated 40,000 new voters. But that's not all the summit group has done. Collectively, it's identified 13 issues as those most affecting African-Americans "and all oppressed people," he said. Those matters range from education, employment and economic empowerment to environmental, criminal justice and family issues.

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