- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2007

RICHMOND — A year after offering a blueprint for rebuilding black America, author Tavis Smiley will bring the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other black thinkers to Virginia this week to discuss putting into action the plan for economic, political and educational revival.

The State of the Black Union forum is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at historically black Hampton University and will include as panelists the Rev. Al Sharpton, Princeton University professor Cornel West and L. Douglas Wilder, the Richmond mayor and the country’s first elected black governor.

The eight-year-old forum is modeled after the annual presidential address, drawing national leaders to discuss black America’s most pressing issues and to form strategies for solutions.

“People are looking for some sort of messianic figure to crack the clouds and deliver us,” said Mr. Smiley, who hosts black-oriented shows on Public Broadcasting Service channels and on Public Radio International. “Everyday people are going to have to do the best they can.”

This year’s forum coincides with Jamestown 2007, 18 months of events — which began last year — commemorating the 400th anniversary of the country’s first permanent English settlement.

Included are contributions that blacks and other minorities made to sustaining early Colonists. Mr. Smiley said a site close to where black slaves first arrived is a fitting place for modern blacks to gather to chart a course for the future.

“Black people are concerned,” Mr. Smiley said. “If we are ever going to get busy, now is the time.”

Nearly 400 years after African slaves first arrived on Virginia’s shores in 1619, modern blacks face decaying marriages, an obesity epidemic and skyrocketing incarceration rates.

Last year, in Mr. Smiley’s New York Times top seller “The Covenant with Black America,” he detailed the challenges facing blacks — from lack of affordable housing to subpar health care.

“We spent last year’s conversation talking about this agenda,” said Mr. Smiley, whose new book is titled “The Covenant In Action.”

“The question is … how do we put that covenant into action,” he said.

Black involvement in the planning of Jamestown 2007 is a start. Until now, the most recent level of comparable black involvement was during the 1907 Jamestown commemoration.

This commemoration will include lectures at each of Virginia’s historically black colleges.

“It all began, for North America at least, here,” said Rex Ellis, co-chairman of the Jamestown 2007 African-American Advisory Council. “Telling the good, the bad, the ugly, I think, is important.”

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