Conference to explore African heritage issues Organizers hope meeting will inspire local groups

November 19, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Community activists from across the country will gather here Thursday for a "State of the Race" conference, billed by its organizers as a forum for exploring issues facing people of African heritage from a global perspective.

The four-day event at the Dunbar Community School Complex at Sojourner-Douglass College in East Baltimore is expected to draw more than 1,000 participants and will address a variety of topics through workshops, a town hall meeting and panel discussions.

"This conference comes in the wake of the Million Woman March and two years after the Million Man March, and it seeks to help provide the answer to the question, 'What's next? Where do we go from here?' " said Kareem Aziz, the local coordinator of the conference and director of research and planning at Sojourner-Douglass College.

"The contention is that African people are under assault wherever we are. The conditions and circumstances faced by black people in East Baltimore rival the conditions and circumstances of people in Port Au Prince and Soweto and London."

The theme of the conference is "Forging Strategies for African World Development." Among the scheduled workshops Saturday are: "Transforming the Criminal Injustice System," "Fighting Environmental Racism" and "The African-Centered Education Movement."

The conference is sponsored by the African American Institute for Research and Empowerment, a Boston-based research facility and think tank, and the National Black United Fund, a fund-raising vehicle for black organizations.

One of the conference's main objectives is to provide participants with strategies to duplicate successful organizing efforts in their own communities. This may involve presentations about effective fund-raising techniques and ways to spur economic development and job training opportunities at the local level.

"This is not a 'Oh, ain't it a shame' conference," said Aziz. "This is a 'Oh, what are you doing?' conference.

"The intent is to facilitate organizers, students, activists, scholars coming together for community development," he said. "And when we define community, we mean local, regional, national, international -- African people throughout the diaspora."

The discussion panel for Thursday's town hall meeting, which is open to the public, includes Maulana Karenga, the originator of the Kwanza holiday; Niara Sudarkasa, president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; and Bill Merritt, president of the National Black United Fund.

Efia Nwangaza, a lawyer and human rights activist in Greenville, S.C., will lead a women's caucus on Friday.

"The focus is for black women to begin to identify the issues that are peculiar to us, being both African and women," said Nwangaza.

For example, she said that many black women are forced to choose between pursuing a sexual harassment or race discrimination claim.

"The question becomes how do we deal with that division whether or not we're going to pursue issues of race or issues of gender, as opposed to dealing with both simultaneously, as we must do," Nwangaza said.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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