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UNC Student attends Black Radical Congress

by Carol Ben Davies


The month of June was a great time to be in Chicago, IL. I and thousands of other people set out on planes, trains, and buses headed to the Windy City for a historic event. Surprisingly, it wasn't to celebrate the Bulls 6th World Championship title. Close to 2,000 activists, scholars, organizers, and artists converged on the campus of the University of Illinois for the first Black Radical Congress (BRC). The term radical may have deterred some individuals from attending, but it was an event I did not want to miss.

Two years went into planning the BRC whose theme was "Setting A Black Liberation Agenda for the 21st Century˛. The call was made by five individuals: Barbara Ransby, Manning Marable, Leith Mulling, Abdul Alkalimat and Bill Fletcher Jr, in response to the void in African-American leadership as well as the digression of 30 years programs used to uplift minorities.

The recent attacks on Affirmative Action, services to the poor and homeless, the attack on subsidized housing, the increase of unemployment rates, welfare reform and the various issues surrounding the criminal justice system were just a few of the critical issues the founders of the BRC saw that stirred the initial efforts. They established a National Continuations Committee with 200 representatives from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. Atlanta, Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, and Chicago etc.

This Committee gained the support of Angela Davis, Cornel West, Amiri and Amina Baraka, Sonja Sanchez, Charlene Mitchell, Kathleen Cleaver, Robin D.G. Kelley and many others. Information about the BRC was made through the internet, e-mail, radio interviews and word of mouth.

I first heard about the BRC through the UNC-CH Black Student Movement listserv. I then met the Local Organizing Committee members for Raleigh-Durham, Ajamu and Rukiya Dillahunt, and I joined them in planning for our trip to Chicago by selling raffle tickets and organizing transportation. The long trip to Chicago was offset by the great people I traveled with individuals who were equally excited about what we would experience.

We were all embraced with brotherly and sisterly love as we made our way into the Chicago Circle Center on UIC's campus. An Inter-generational Dialogue on Culture, History and Politics occurred at the Opening Plenary. Activists of the 60s, Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver were interviewed by youth activists of the 90s in hope to learn from each other.

It was unlike any learning experience I had in my UNC-CH courses. Not only did it serve as a history lesson for younger participants, (I got a first hand account of COINTELPRO—an FBI program established to break down the Black Panther Party), but it allowed the older generation a chance to look on with pride and encouragement that there is a next generation of radicals. Often times my generation (late 1970s) is criticized for not being as active as our parents generation, but the youth present showed that we are as committed to improving the lives of blacks and other minorities as our ancestors have been.

The BRC consisted of many different caucuses—Black Feminist, BRC Youth, Lesbian-Gay, Trade and Union and others - over its three-day course. As a former leader of the UNC-CH Black Student Movement, I participated in the BRC Youth Caucus. It was a great opportunity to hear so many young individuals discuss their efforts and dedication to their communities.

In a workshop session titled Youth and Student Organizing: Supporting Those Š Who Have the Courage to Run Against the Storm: The Next Generation, we discussed the attacks on youth as gang bangers and promiscuous teens, as well the results of recent cuts of minority programs and scholarships on college campuses. We worked to establish ways to link together and combat the issues. In this session as well as in the BRC Youth Caucuses the minds of intelligent, active, yet stubborn individuals clashed.

The concept that so many people were trying to get together to solve age old problems became very problematic. Many of us decided not to attend many of the break sessions or the BRC Cultural Event featuring Sonia Sanchez, to instead stay up until 3:00 AM to have our reportbacks from our sessions. We argued and disagreed on ideologies and basic procedure.

When finally we broke off into regions of East, West, Mid-West, and South we began to accomplish many things. Each region came up with critical issues facing their communities. Some of the issues included; political apathy, failing criminal justice system, police brutality, welfare reform, liquor and cocaine addictions among several others. The issue of southern black and Latino farmers was a pressing one that didn't show up on the list of other regions.

Since the BRC, the BRC Youth Caucus has composed a listserv, I receive on the average 5-10 messages each day about the efforts of participants and the continued quest for solutions to these many issues. We realize that our problems will not go away if we are not willing to fight for what we believe is right, and that merely having conversations and daily chats will not alleviate our problems.

There is quite a long road to take in the education of many of our communities, when we left the BRC youth caucuses we vowed to stay abreast of the issues facing the African-American community and to fight to end racism and inequality in America. I hope to do my part by creating awareness about the expansion of the prisons—the punishment industry. The BRC was an event that will occur again in the future. Next year I hope to attend again but this time with more knowledge about what radicalism is -- "getting to the root".

  Carol Ben Davies is a UNC-Chapel Hill student working with the Black Cultural Center and Black Ink, published by UNC's Black Student Movement.  

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