Female reps in scene from 2022's CBC Legislative Conference Credit: Contributed photo

The United States’ largest Black public policy conference takes place this weekend as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) holds its 52nd Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center. 

The theme for this year’s conference is “Securing Our Democracy. Protecting Our Freedoms. Uplifting Our Culture.” The CBCF conference takes place through Sept. 24.

It’s an annual event and CBCF President Nicole Austin-Hillery says she considers it to be particularly significant this year because Black America is facing critical challenges. 

“We are on the eve of an election year and voting rights remain under attack,” she told the AmNews. “Despite at least one or two recent good decisions from the Supreme Court helping to expand and protect voting rights, there are still numerous state legislatures that are continuing to implement laws that make it harder for Black and brown people to vote. 

“We are still, as a community, dealing with educational issues. Our school systems are in dire need. We are dealing with criminal justice issues in our community, policing issues, water rights, housing rights. We are dealing with a strained economy that is having a disparate impact on Black America. So, this is a time for us as a community of lawmakers, of advocates, of grassroots individuals, as citizens, and constituents to come together and talk about how do we try to solve these problems and move the Black community forward. So, this moment is critical for us.”

The conference features four days of more than 100 panels themed around education, artificial intelligence, healthcare, transportation and environmental equity, wealth building, the arts and more. President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris are both scheduled to speaking at the conference’s Phoenix Awards dinner event on September 23. A full list of the ALC events and topics is available at https://na.eventscloud.com/website/59188/agenda/.  

There are already nearly 5,000 registrants for the conference. The point of bringing such diverse levels of the Black political community together is to give people a space to take notes, look at specific talking points and data points, and then take them back to their communities so they can figure out how to adapt them in the places they live. 

There are statistics showing that more states have been putting restrictive voting laws on the books. After the Supreme Court struck down the anti-discrimination provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, there were state legislatures that immediately started putting new Draconian laws in place, Austin-Hillery said. Last year, the nonprofit law and public policy Brennan Center for Justice determined that, “Between January 1 and May 4, six state legislatures––Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma––have passed nine election interference laws. … In total, lawmakers in 27 states have proposed at least 148 election interference bills.” 

“So, we are in many ways, with respect to voting, in a more critical position because those same laws were not on the book 10 years ago,” Austin-Hillery notes. “We are dealing with issues around white supremacy that are more salient than we were dealing with 10 years ago, there’s much more happening around the country in terms of vocalized attacks on our community. So, I think that our community, writ large, realizes that and looks at the fact that even though we as a as a community have been dealing with these struggles and challenges for quite some time …we have to double down. 

“Frankly, I don’t think the Black community is going to feel burnt out: look, that is our history as a people. Our history is that we are a people who are resilient when dealing with and facing challenges. Even when we get tired, even when we know it’s hard. That is part of our culture.”

To register and attend the 52nd Annual Legislative Conference, visit https://na.eventscloud.com/ereg/index.php?eventid=749926&. For more information about the ALC, email eventsupport@cbcfinc.org

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