By Amber D. Dodd
Special to the AFRO
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris deliver remarks as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference’s pinnacle event
On Sept. 23, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation hosted their 52nd annual Phoenix Awards ceremony at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., to conclude its Annual Legislative Conference. This year’s session focused on a three-pronged theme: securing our democracy, protecting our freedoms and uplifting our culture.
Emmy-nominated “Abbott Elementary” star Janelle James and “Queen Sugar” actor Kofi Siriboe served as co-hosts of the awards as the CBC highlighted changemakers in the Black community.
CBCF CEO and President Nicole Austin-Hillery welcomed guests to the sold-out event, expressing joy that though Black America is currently being challenged on all fronts, the community is still showing up in strides to protect American values.
She shared stories of the CBC’s work beyond Congress, including the CBC Leadership Institute, where future Black leaders cultivate niche experiences and partnerships with organizations such as Siemen to include Black voices on international policy.
“In a wide variety of social justice and public policy issues – health care, the economy, the disproportionate effects of climate change, and many more – we’ve used education, investment and new initiatives to make a real difference in the lives of Black Americans,” Austin-Hillery said. “Nothing is more important in that effort than continuing our scholarship and internship programs.”
The 58 members of this year’s Congressional Black Caucus comprise the largest cohort yet. New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, winner of the CBCF’s Body Award, spoke to the organization’s extensive work since 1971.
“The CBC has fought for racial justice, social justice, economic justice and to bring the American dream to life in every single zip code. We will continue to speak up, we will continue to show up, we will continue to stand up until we reach the promised land of liberty and justice for all,” Jefferies said upon accepting his award.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered separate addresses during the Phoenix Awards. Much of the night’s focus zeroed in on this year being the final CBC gathering before America enters the 2024 presidential election cycle.
President Biden said he was inspired by many CBC movements and highlighted that his commitment to the Black community has been a “promise made and promise kept” during his campaign.
“Folks have the audacity to say that I cut HBCU funding. And people – let me be clear – we’ve invested more than $7 billion,” Biden said. He added, “I made my promise in my campaign the first Black woman on the United States Supreme Court and I meant it. We did it with the support of the CBC, and Ketanji Brown Jackson is on the bench and she’s the brightest of anybody on that bench.”
Vice President Harris, a former CBC member when she served as a California senator, touched on the benefits and power that the caucus holds, especially in a time where reproductive rights and gun violence affect Black communities more than ever.
“The CBC has always been the conscience of our country, a truth teller–truths about where we have been and where we must go,” Harris said. “Tonight, let us continue to speak truth. Across America, there is a full-on attack on many of the hard-fought, hard-won freedoms that the CBC has achieved.”
Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones (D) was honored with the CBCF’s Chair’s Award for leading protests against Tennessee lawmakers protecting gun rights.
Former CBC member Karen Bass, the current mayor of Los Angeles, received the Caucus Chair Award for her work in proposing methods to combat Los Angeles’ homelessness issue.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Congress, but I had to because Black folk in Los Angeles are 8 percent of our city and 30 percent of the people on our streets. In Los Angeles, that’s 46,000 people who sleep on the streets every night, and every night five of them don’t wake up,” Bass said.
The CBCF also awarded those outside of Congress such as Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary who is the first openly LGBTQ+ woman to hold her position. Jean-Pierre was honored with the Honorary Co-Chairs’ Award.
Hip-hop icons MC Lyte and LL Cool J received the Culture’s Icon Award to celebrate their respective achievements in the genre during its 50th year anniversary.
“Thank you to the entire CBC for your dedication to change. Because you do what you do, and you take care of the heavy lifting in our communities, we in hip hop get to do what we do and that’s to entertain,” MC Lyte said.
LL Cool J followed up, talking about hip hop culture’s role in framing Black narratives, even politically.
“In hip hop culture, we’re not always politically correct but we are always artistically correct. And so this love of this culture and this love of this art wouldn’t be anything without all of your support. I want to commend you on everything that you’re doing to make dreams come true around the country for Black men and Black women like myself, and I’d just encourage you to go after your dreams.”
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