Every year around this time, the National Urban League releases a State of the Black America report, with its successes and challenges for the future. This year, under the Trump administration, the need for a cohesive plan is more urgent than ever.
“I think we are in a state of disarray,” said CNN commentator Angela Rye on Tuesday during the taping of the State of Black America town hall at the Howard Theatre in Washington D.C. “I think our resistance needs to be twofold. We need to be opposing Trump’s harmful policies and we need to be inward-facing, thinking about ways we can support each other. We need to bank black, buy black and give black.”
Rye was one of several featured panelists—leaders, politicians and journalists—gathered to discuss the best way forward for the black community under a new president. Other panelists included Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson; Symone Sanders, former press secretary for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; GOP commentator Paris Dennard; writer and political commentator Jeff Johnson; and author and journalist Toure. Roland Martin, host and managing editor of TV One’s NewsNow, led the discussion (the town hall will air on TV One on May 31).
Martin noted that Donald Trump’s policy agenda should not be the sole political focus for black America, that we should be focused on state and local races.
“Most of the changes you see in voter suppression around the country came after the midterm elections in 2010. That’s when you had a number of legislatures that flipped from Democratic to Republican. That’s when they began to input their ‘Stand your ground’ laws and voter-suppression laws,” he said.
Martin was tough on two Republican panelists: Angela Sailor, the former director of the Republican National Committee’s Coalitions Department, and Dennard, who frequently appears on cable news defending Trump’s policies. Martin insisted that they make demands specifically for black Americans to the Republicans. During a discussion on the housing crisis and how it disproportionately affected blacks, Dennard invoked the name of Dr. Ben Carson, which caused the studio audience to immediately erupt in loud and involuntary laughter.
There were nuanced questions and comments from the audience, while the solutions from the panelists varied and were sometimes contradictory.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the best solutions offered for a variety of issues:
On the biggest issue affecting the black community:
Toure: “The biggest problem for black America is the war on drugs. The war is more corrosive than the drugs themselves. The over-policing, over-prosecuting, the over-jailing creates a class of men that can’t join in the mainstream economy. We can start by decriminalizing marijuana.”
Johnson: “We keep waiting on the same people and the same infrastructure who haven’t solved problems to solve them. We need to actualize solutions rather than just having the vision for them.”
Dennard: “There’s a train of thought that says we should not engage with the Trump administration. I believe you have to have a seat at the table. Because if our issues are not on the table, we stand to lose. When we lose, the whole country loses. America is not a separate entity. It’s in the best interests of America that we win, from fragile communities in Appalachia to fragile communities in Baltimore.”
Johnson: “Do we continue to buy into the notion that college is a yellow brick road to success? So many of us are stuck in bougie wonderland where we think all of our kids need to go to college to be respectable. Do you have a skill where you can go into the world and manifest your greatness? To compete in a global economy, no one gives a damn whether you went to college; they care whether you can create impact.”
Dyson: “We need to get as much education as we can even though there’s been a decline between the relationship with going to college and getting good jobs. For black people, college is still the gateway to opportunity.”
Rye: “The biggest issue in education is the decriminalization of black kids. You start having issues with suspension, suspension turns into expulsion, expulsion turns into a juvenile-detention center.”
Dyson: “We need to hold our political figures accountable. There is a necessity for black people to continue to protest. We didn’t do such a good job of that under the Obama administration, and economic instability rose under Obama. We weren’t as critical as we needed to be. It’s not about an individual, it’s about political systems and structures. We have to hold everyone accountable. These people work for us, and we have to remember that we have to gain the sense of power that we the people possess. Especially among African-American and Latinx people and others who are marginalized.”
On building wealth:
Martin: “I would like to see the National Urban League assemble an investment fund to acquire properties in our neighborhoods that are gentrifying.”
Rye: “We have every right to hold the federal government accountable for systemic oppression. We need a category for the descendants of African slaves. We need to make sure the government makes us whole for what they’ve done to us in this country.”
The State of Black America town hall will air on TV One on May 31 at 8 p.m. ET.