Georgia lawmakers welcome return of Black Caucus conference, festivities

Credit: COX

Credit: COX

WASHINGTON — Andre Dickens has attended the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference for years, but this time will be different.

He no longer has to hustle for invitations to exclusive private events or lean on friends to sneak him in. This year, Atlanta’s first-year mayor is headlining a panel on public-private partnerships alongside executives from companies such as Amazon. And he is hosting a high-profile event of his own: a Saturday brunch that is part of the city’s pitch to host the Democratic National Convention.

“I’m talking to any and everybody I can about highlighting Atlanta as the place to be for DNC 2024, as well as highlighting Atlanta as the place to be for investment and talent development,” the mayor said. “So Saturday morning is going to be a nice opportunity for folks to see what the ATL does well.”

The annual conference, which begins today, is a five-day slate of panels, workshops and special events. Unofficially, there are also dozens of parties and receptions scheduled to coincide with what is often referred to as simply CBC Week or ALC.

Spending days sharing ideas and rubbing elbows with elected officials and community leaders from across the nation has always been the appeal of the conference, Dickens said.

“You won’t find this level of talented panelists and speakers in one packed week too many times, and definitely not more than once a year,” he said. “It’s also uplifting and empowering. So many people over the years count this as a must-attend event, and I do, too.”

Attendees each year include Black elected officials and bureaucrats from all levels of government and from across the nation. The events also attract companies and lobbyists hoping to strengthen relationships with these leaders or build new ones. Rounding out the crowd are junior staffers and aspiring officeholders, plus those who join in for the conference’s notorious party circuit.

Because most Black lawmakers are Democrats, the Annual Legislative Conference is often compared to the party’s once-every-four-years convention. Except this happens every September and has for 51 years.

“You can feel the momentum and the unity that this conference forges among Black people from across America,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia, who is the caucus’ whip. “And so it’s a gathering spot; it’s an annual gathering that people have come to look forward to.”

Georgia state Rep. Billy Mitchell of Stone Mountain is speaking at a town hall on the legacy of the civil rights movement, and his colleague, state Rep. Kim Schofield of Atlanta, is on a panel that will focus on lung cancer. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Atlanta is hosting a roundtable featuring the presidents of majority-Black fraternities and sororities, as well as a discussion on homeownership.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta has events on her schedule with the abortion rights group Emily’s List and the 100 Black Men of America, including discussion of her bill creating the U.S. Commission for the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.

Johnson is hosting a workshop focused on his efforts to expand the U.S. Supreme Court and participating on a different panel on the topic of rap music being used as evidence against rap artists.

U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta plans to highlight the conference’s philanthropic aspects. The money raised through sponsorships and registration fees is used to award scholarships to Black students, and the caucus also has robust internship and fellowship programs.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany started coming to the conference even before he was elected to Congress 30 years ago. His schedule this week is packed with a mixture of official activities and evening extras sponsored by some of Georgia’s biggest companies.

Aflac, the insurance company headquartered in Columbus, which is in Bishop’s district, has a reception Thursday night celebrating all of the state’s caucus members. Aflac will award a Lifetime Achievement Award to the state delegation’s newest CBC member: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. Georgia Power has a separate event that day where the man of honor is former state Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus.

Bishop also plans to attend a gospel extravaganza Thursday evening at a Washington church. On Friday, he will headline a workshop titled “Elevating the Health Care Needs of Black Women Veterans in the Twenty-First Century” before heading to the Kennedy Center for a concert sponsored by the Southern Co., the parent company of Georgia Power.

His favorite event, a prayer breakfast recently rebranded as a “Day of Healing,” that is set for Saturday. Afterward is the Coca-Cola reception, and that evening is the annual awards gala. It has been sold out for weeks, and President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are scheduled to deliver remarks.

Williams, who was sworn into Congress in 2021, attended past conferences as a state lawmaker and party activist. She said she is excited for her first in-person event as a member of Congress who can now open doors for others.

“There were times when I was literally tying to switch out nametags and wristbands with people so that I could get into all of the events that I wanted to go to,” she said. “And now, I am still coming to the realization that I’m the person with all of this access and opportunity.”