The convention center staff had to bring out extra chairs to handle the audience crowd at the 8th annual Black Women's Roundtable (BWR) which convened yesterday, the first day of the Congressional Black Caucus' 46th Annual Legislative Conference. Held at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, the BWR was led by moderator, Vanessa de Luca, editor in chief of ESSENCE magazine. The panel featured women leaders from a variety of groups including political activism, civil rights and entertainment fields.
Titled the Power of the Sister Vote: Intergenerational Roundtable, the session brought veteran women in the struggle together with younger leaders who brought a fresh voice and interesting perspective to the discussion. The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) led by the organization president and CEO, Melanie L. Campbell is the force behind the BWR. The first session focused on the results of the 2016 ESSENCE/BWR Power of the Sister Vote Poll.
Using the results of the survey to drive the conversation, we heard from Avis Jones-DeWeever, founder and CEO of Exceptional Leadership Institution for Women and Holli Holiday, Unity ‘16 Campaign Manager at NCBCP, who reviewed the survey results for the audience. Healthcare was identified as the major issue for women responding to the survey and it was an ongoing theme in panelist's comments.
The power of the intersectionality between healthcare and so many challenges that face the African American community was raised by Cora Barry, former First Lady of the District of Columbia. We heard about the issue of drug addiction and mental health in our community when she spoke of losing her stepson to addiction to legal drugs earlier this year. Many other panelists, including Jacqui Hood Martin of J. Hood and Associates, Elsie Scott, founding director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Institute at Howard University and Briana Patterson of Black Youth Vote! provided insight and shared experiences on the survey results and suggestions on how our community needs to respond.
Ebonee Rice, National Director, Young American and Women's Engagement at Enroll America, spoke about the connections between healthcare and criminal justice intersecting in the African-American community. She stressed the importance of using the information about how one affects the other in our community to "engage and motivate Millennials." A prominent reality TV star, Yandy Smith-Harris of the popular VH1 show, Love and Hip Hop, talked from the heart about the fact that her family has been personally impacted. She encouraged her fellow panelist's in leadership to continue to "inform her so she can inform her community," speaking of the 4 million Instagram and 821,000 Twitter followers she has on social media.
Coming from my interest in wellness, I found it encouraging to hear the panelists focus on healthcare because there is no question that access to good healthcare, both physical and mental are essential to happiness and overall well-being on our society. As a black woman who is a single mom, entrepreneur and civic activist, I found the BWR an enlightening experience. Although I had missed this session at previous ALC’s, it’s one I won't ever miss again.
Overall, I’d say the discussion caused many of the audience to action as we were asked initially by Melanie Campbell and again at the close of the session by Crayola Brown, the first woman president of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, "Where are we going in the next 54 days as we head into this election?!"