Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Covenant, Convention and Context

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Covenant, Convention and Context

Article excerpt

The history of the Black convention goes back more than 175 years, to Philadelphia's Negro National Convention on Sept. 15, 1830. The convention drew 40 Black people from nine states, including Bishop Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. That event spawned the American Society of Free People of Colour. The convention was sparked by the question of a 16-year-old free Black man, Hezekiel Grice, who wondered if Blacks should just leave the United States because of tile "hopelessness of contending against oppression." He thought there ought to be a forum to discuss the matter. Grice's question was the spark that led to a series of conversations within the Black community between 1830 and 1864. In the guide accompanying the PBS series "Africans in America," it is noted that the crescendo of meetings had escalated to the point that "colored conventions are almost as frequent as church meetings."

Black folk are still meeting. Seeking. Trying to find solutions to the same oppression that young Hezekiel Grice articulated. To be sure, that oppression is not as stark, the conditions not as dire. But statistics continue to reveal the breadth of difference between the African-American experience and the mainstream American experience.

For the past seven years, Tavis Smiley, the television and radio personality, has been bringing African-Americans together to continue the movement Grice began in 1830. Smiley's one-day forums, titled "The State of the Black Union," feature a group of Black thinkers who publicly discuss and debate the condition of the Black community. I was honored to serve as a panelist in the 2005 and 2006 SOBU conventions. Smiley has asserted, appropriately, that it is enough simply to talk about the African-American condition. But last year, in response to sentiment from his audience that Black folk needed to do more than talk, he produced The Covenant With Bluck America. The book combines insightful essays, data and action items, which will hopefully help answer the pressing question that Black folk too often ask, "What we gonna do?"

Smiley is to be congratulated for moving from convention to covenant. Certainly such calls have been issued before, but the combination of technology, personality and commitment have produced a piece that people can work with as they talk about the next steps for Black America. To be sure, this is not a perfect document. …

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