Voices From Smiley's Black Agenda Summit

Thousands gathered in Chicago and got fired up, but did they leave with an action plan?

Black Agenda Summit Panelists (The Smiley Group/ Earl Gibson III, AP)

Tracey Bruno was fired up and looking for some answers on Saturday when she entered the cavernous convocation center of Chicago State University to hear Tavis Smiley's much-publicized panel about the black agenda.

But all she got was talk, she said.

"When you have these panel discussions, there is nothing concrete, like you can do A, B, C and D,'' said Bruno, 45, who lives in Oak Park, a western suburb of Chicago, and who works as a jobs counselor. "Everybody talks about what's going on and the things that aren't working, but what can we do? What can the everyday person do? We know what the leaders can do.''

"We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda'' was organized to discuss President Barack Obama's lack of a black agenda and featured 12 African-American leaders as panelists, including Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, professors Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, and Bennett College president Julianne Malveaux.

Smiley, a TV and radio host who is a frequent critic of some of President Barack Obama's policies, says Obama needs to address a black agenda. It is necessary, he says, because black unemployment is nearly twice that of whites and housing foreclosures have hit the black community the hardest, among other reasons. The president should not be afraid to openly champion such an agenda, said a number of the speakers on Saturday. The message was punctuated by an exclamation point because it was held in the president's adopted hometown.

"Don't you know [Chicago Mayor] Harold Washington said, 'Because I love black folk doesn't mean I hate anybody else,'" former Chicago Alderman Dorothy Tilllman, a panelist, asked as if the president were in the room, drawing rousing applause from the crowd.

Donnell Sanderfer, 59, an attendee from Phoenix, Ill., south of Chicago, was one of the people shouting from the rafters as panelists urged President Obama to do more for blacks. He voted for him in 2008, but now Sanderfer expresses buyer's remorse.

"I voted for him, and I would fight you if you said you weren't going to vote for him,'' Sanderfer said. "I'm not going to be happy if things stay the same. The economy is getting worse and black people are suffering. I'm suffering. The president is afraid if he helps black people he's going to be called a racist. But do white people care about us? White people don't care.''

Sanderfer's was a point that was echoed throughout the day from panelists and attendees alike. But all African Americans do not agree that President Obama should do more for blacks. Obama does not agree either. He has argued that the economic job and stimulus programs he has put into motion will help everyone. The president's response and that of other black leaders defending his approach spurred Smiley to convene the panel.

Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, acknowledged during the discussion that he had kept a low profile and avoided speaking out during Obama's presidential campaign so as not to damage the candidate's chances during the racially charged contest. He argued that because 97 percent African Americans voted for Obama, the president should pay attention to the needs of the black community.