- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

ATLANTA The State of the Black World Conference was experiencing serious attendance problems yesterday after the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton left town.
The official opening session of the conference yesterday afternoon drew a crowd that fluctuated between 200 and 300 people, and many of them left after a speech from Tavis Smiley, author and a former host on Black Entertainment Television.
"You have to think black 100 percent of the time," Mr. Smiley told an audience of mostly middle-aged men. "We have access, we can go to school, we can get jobs, we can ride the bus. What are we going to do next?"
His question appeared to puzzle some in the audience.
It was a far cry from the thunderous atmosphere of Thursday evening, when Mr. Sharpton exhorted an audience of 700 cheering people of all ages to focus on the concerns of black America instead of flying a U.S. flag.
He taunted the U.S. military for failing to track down suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and received a standing ovation.
"This country can't find a guy who comes out every two weeks to cut a video, and then you challenge us to stand under one flag," Mr. Sharpton said.
In contrast, Mr. Smiley was followed yesterday by Conrad Worrill, the chairman of the National Black United Front, who urged the gradually departing audience to raise their hands in the "black power" gesture.
Some did, but most of the younger people in the crowd headed for the exits.
In the audience were people from all over the United States San Diego to Philadelphia and also foreign countries such as Haiti and South Africa. Many donned traditional African clothing and several Muslim women wore head covering.
Several reasons were cited for the low turnout. Jackie Tevis, an Atlanta telecommunications professional, said the conference was important, "but it isn't very well organized. And we need to come out of it with some solutions to these problems they want to talk about."
The trouble is that they have no solutions to the problems besetting blacks around the world, said Kevin L. Martin, advisor to Project 21, a black Republican advocacy group.
Mr. Martin is angry that black Republicans were left off an invitation list that is remarkable more for its no-shows than the number of those who agreed to come. Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Atlanta Mayor-elect Shirley Franklin, Louis Farrakhan and actor Danny Glover had not yet shown up or cancelled appearances.
"Black conservatives were not invited to the event and they want to call this the state of the black world," Mr. Martin said. "The reason there are not many people there is because black people are sick of hearing all of this rhetoric."
Before the opening session ended, Cosme Torres, deputy ambassador to the United Nations for Cuba, praised his communist country's civil rights record.
"Cuba now has a school of medicine with people attending from 24 countries," said Mr. Torres, who received strong applause several times during his five-minute address. He noted that the United States has "millions of people without health care."
"Cuba is right there, ready to build solidarity for the revolution," Mr. Torres promised. "The Negroes of Cuba day after day make the dream of their ancestors a reality."

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