Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Black ministers, lobbyists and activists recognizing a conservative movement across the nation and wanting to capitalize on it signed the 21st Century Mayflower Compact yesterday to create a positive change in their community.

Members of the Mayflower Compact Coalition crafted the document with the goal to reconstitute moral and social values through personal responsibility, and the strengthening of families and communities. The name comes from the 1620 document signed by the Pilgrims that was the seed of democracy in the New World.

“We’ve spent the last couple decades embracing the civil rights movement, and we’ve got our rights now codified; now we have to impart the mantle of responsibility,” said Oliver Kellman Jr., a District-based lobbyist and Republican who switched parties after seeing an overabundance of apathy from Democrats in his lobbying efforts.

Mr. Kellman and several other members of the coalition said the document is designed to provide a framework for dealing with the various social ills in the black community.

“This is a values movement now,” said Vivian Berryhill, president and founder of the National Coalition of Pastors’ Spouses, a 2,400-member organization.

She said Americans can understand and unite around issues in the nine-point agenda, which focuses on family and youth protection, expanding education choices and improving health care.

“We are all Americans and we framed the language so that anybody and everybody who reads this document can see themselves in it,” Mrs. Berryhill said.

Many members of the coalition are Republicans and have been chosen by the Republican National Committee to head up the party’s outreach to blacks.

Mr. Kellman and Phyllis Berry Myers, president and founding member of the Center for New Black Leadership, said the coalition is seeking to be apolitical, but acknowledged difficulties in avoiding politics.

“Politics will be a tool just as politics was a tool in the civil rights movement,” Mrs. Myers said. “If there is one thing we want to see is for black Americans to stop looking to government to solve all of our problems.”

Although the often-heard liberal criticism of black conservatives is that they are hired hands, Mrs. Myers said, the first criticism the group will face is that the compact does not deal with racism.

“We are saying that in spite of racism, we must persevere as our ancestors did,” she said.

Mrs. Berryhill was more candid.

“We have more discretionary cash as black Americans right now than we have had in 400 years and yet our grandparents created historically black colleges and universities and organizations with far less, and today we can’t even keep them going.”

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