Attended a conference today in Oakland on "The State of the African American Male," subtitled: What is happening with ex-felons re-entering the community, and how can we improve the transition? The event was hosted by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-9) supported by Rep. Danny Davis (Il-07) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. The keynoter was Oakland Black Panther co-founder, Bobby Seale. It was held at Laney Community College in downtown Oakland and drew a large number of young black men, community program directors and staffs, Oakland's mayor, Jerry Brown and California State Senator, Pro Tem, Don Perata. Big stuff.
Learned that, nationwide, 900,000 black males are incarcerated -- more of its people are in prisons in the USA than any other country in the world. It was interest to me that there was no mention of the growing number of women now doing time. There are -- by far -- more black people in the prisons of the nation than in colleges and universities. In fact, County Supervisor Keith Carson had just returned from a meeting at UCBerkeley where he learned that in this year 2004, only 6 black students have enrolled in the graduate schools. That's almost unbelievable, and a sad commentary on the state of educational opportunities for non-whites.
Will write more about this later, but having left early and before the keynote address was given -- I feel that I missed most of the substantive material and heard only that which was ceremonial. There was much filming of the event and -- having access to Barbara's office through old friendships, I'll be able to have access to what was missed.
Of interest was the fact that both Mayor Brown and Senator Perata spoke their few words of greeting and congratulations then slipped immediately out of the nearest exit when that was done. How often I've seen this happen? The emotional and highly-charged testimonies that come out of these breakout sessions rarely reach the ears of the powerful who might be able to effect meaningful change. Those making the pleas for that change end up speaking to each other. At least those members of the Congressional Black Caucus remained, and the work would carry on, but they, too, may be speaking only to one another in the context of Washington, D.C. Makes one wonder ... .
What was I doing there? All a part of climbing back in the saddle, I suppose. The subject has been important to me for a very long time -- and if all goes as expected -- I may be in a position to bring some new energy to the subject in a few months. It feels familiar -- and in a good way.
Maybe it's a little like riding that proverbial bicycle -- once learned ... .