A Delicate Balancing Act for the Black Agenda

Don Terry, New York Times, March 18, 2010

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But as the economic crisis continues to slam black America disproportionately hard, while bonuses rain down on Wall Street, the debate has spilled into the open and will get its loudest and most public hearing yet on Saturday, in a forum held just a few miles from Mr. Obama’s house in Kenwood, at Chicago State University.

Tavis Smiley, an author and talk show host and a frequent–and until recently rare–black critic of the president, is scheduled to convene a panel of civil rights leaders and scholars called “We Count: The Black Agenda Is the American Agenda.”

The discussion will be nationally televised on C-Span, and the invited panelists include Cornel West, a Princeton University professor; Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“A black agenda is jobs, jobs, jobs, quality education, investment in infrastructure and strong democratic regulation of corporations,” Dr. West said. “The black agenda, at its best, looks at America from the vantage point of the least of thee and asks what’s best for all.”

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{snip} But since announcing the event last month, Mr. Smiley and the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of Mr. Obama’s most vocal supporters–“Barack’s pet preacher,” as one Chicago activist put it–have conducted a sometimes heated debate on black radio about the wisdom of convening the “We Count” panel discussion.

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“Barack is ignoring the black community,” said Ms. Hartman [Hermene D. Hartman, publisher of the weekly N’Digo newspaper in Chicago.]. “{snip} Trickle down is not trickling down.”

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