- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

The Congressional Black Caucus has its annual convention, which earns its foundation nearly $2 million, in full swing despite initial reluctance in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"We are taking up the challenge of the president," Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat and caucus chairman, said during opening remarks this week. "We will shine a spotlight on the nation's most important needs inclusion, counting votes, opportunity for children, creating wealth and fairness the work of the Congressional Black Caucus is too important to put on hold for any reason."

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said blacks have endured hardships, "not just in the last two weeks but over the last couple of hundred years."

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, said: "What better group to speak about democracy than us?"

But black leaders have struggled since the terrorist attacks to forge a coherent agenda. A weakening economy, security issues and a sizable military mobilization have captured news headlines, while black issues have become secondary.

Speakers at the convention so far have done their best to address the issues confronting all Americans, regardless of race.

"The terrorists were the Middle Eastern Ku Klux Klan," said Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He spoke yesterday to a full house at the Washington Convention Center gathered to hear a 12-member panel discuss domestic security.

"They do not represent Islam any more than the Ku Klux Klan represents Christianity," he said.

Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, in addressing the same group, said she realized that on Sept. 11, "like it or not, we're all in this democracy together. The African-American community are especially affected due to [its] sordid history with the intelligence community."

Caucus leaders added to the agenda four workshops dealing with the effects of the terrorist attacks. A town-hall meeting yesterday also focused on security at home and the fallout of domestic terrorism.

Foundation Executive Director Ramona Edelin said, "initially, this event looked like it might be hurt badly. But more and more people are calling. And we hope that the dinner on Saturday night will do well."

The dinner will feature President Clinton as the keynote speaker.

Several dinners and social events related to the conference were canceled, but the convention itself has 50 workshops scheduled through Sunday.

Miss Edelin said some groups have chosen not to attend the convention, which attracts special interest groups, lobbyists, constituents and vendors from around the country.

She disputes any notion that black issues have been relegated to the back burner as the nation becomes fixated on the war against terrorism.

"We have never gotten the media attention to the substantial issues," Miss Edelin said. "But with the cancellation of other events that were to surround this convention, we're stripped down to the essence. People are here now only for the African-American agenda."

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