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African Americans 'Making Connections'

Event draws hundreds to gym, sessions

By Ron Thompson
On February 28, 2013


Laney College played host to the second "African American Organizations Making Connections 2013: 'Strategies and Outcomes for our Black Community' on Feb. 23, filling the gym with community leaders and hundreds of attendees for a full day of networking, organizing and seeking solutions to daunting issues.

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson opened the proceedings, proclaiming, "It's very important that we put on this event here at Laney-this institution of education and a pillar of the Oakland community. Thank you for allowing us to hold this important event in celebration of Black History Month at Laney."

Laney College President Elñora Webb then welcomed the assemblage. "It's an honor that Keith Carson had this vision for us," she said. "I want to thank you for recognizing Laney College as your college; it's our college and a community asset and that's why we're in this space."

Webb also had praise for Rep. Barbara Lee: "Thank you for caring in ways that are invaluable."

Peralta Chancellor Jose Ortiz, formerly a dean at Laney, said he returned to Peralta and the East Bay "because of our diversity, our ethnicity, our diversity of ideas and progressive thought.

"I find it very interesting as we commemorate 150 years of the Emancipation Proclamation that we still, quite frankly, are struggling and are challenged by issues of equality and opportunity."

Carson stressed that "the conference is designed to address the problems that plague the black community-poverty, poor health, high unemployment and violence."

The opening plenary panel featured Rep. Lee, who acknowledged that working with the Black Panthers in the '60s was formative in her development. She lauded "working with the school lunch programs and using the Panther Party Ten Point Platform" as a community organizer.

Lee was joined by former Black Panthers Elaine Brown and Bobby Seale, and Ella Baker Center Executive Director Jakada Imani on the panel, which was titled, "A Look into the Black Community: Where We Have Been, Where We Are, Where We Are Going."

The thought-provoking topics engaged hundreds who filled the gym, including vendors, gathering information and ready to engage the panelists in dialogue.

Attendees were invited to participate in the panel discussions in the break-out rooms, to engage in dialogue, ask questions, offer opinions, make suggestions on strategies and outcomes to strengthen and rebuild the community. 

The workshop sessions covered topics more specific to the nuts and bolts of reworking and rebuilding:

® Black Health And Wellness

® Our Community a Safe Place-Public Safety

® Business/Job Creation/Workforce Development

® A Black Community As One: Intergenerational Relationships

® Faith-Based and Community Organizations: What Services Are We Providing Our Community?

® Black Men/Black Women: How Do We Strengthen Our Communication

The attendees remained long after the workshops were over to talk with panelists, share ideas and voice opinions concerning topics discussed. Many were eager to share their thoughts and feelings about the workshops just attended.

"I've been here since the beginning and today the information has been invaluable," said one attendee, director of a nonprofit agency in Berkeley.

Author Gloria Dean really liked "what former BPP member Elaine Brown said: 'We have to be more proactive, demanding that resources in the community be redirected towards projects that are going to help people.'

Said Dean: "I couldn't get out of the main auditorium to check out any of the break-out sessions because being in here has been so empowering." 

Another attendee described his elation with the event: "I've had a powerful and transforming experience today and was quite expanded by the   information on business and employment development in breakout room C." 

"I agree with the panelists this morning," said Laney Ethnic Studies Department Chair Tamika Brown. "There is a lack of health care, which is associated with lack of employment, which is particularly high with young black males. It is a serious problem.

"We need to be the change we want to see, to organize our voices in a collective effort to bring about the change we seek-Brown people, White people and Black people working together to solve this economic issue."

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