by Joan H. Allen
It was a packed house at the National Action Network’s 25th Anniversary Convention’s Plenary Session for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s speech. Rev. Al Sharpton addressed the press.
“When we say, ‘yes’ and ‘amen,’ that’s not a heckler,” he quipped. “When the media asks, ‘why did Secretary Clinton come to NAN?’ It’s because [presidential candidates have] been doing that for over a decade.”
Although Sharpton said that he had not yet endorsed a candidate, he sang Clinton’s praises.
“We’ve known each other for over 20 years,” said Sharpton.
They haven’t agreed on everything, Sharpton admitted, citing the President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. However, when they’ve agreed, “she’s not been ashamed or anyway stepping back, as she did when, Amadou Diallo was killed by police. She took a public stand.
“Although I haven’t endorsed a candidate, I wish to make this clear: the issues need to be dealt with in a substantive way…Black America must be taken seriously…and not given slogans that can’t be explained how they can be achieved. Because nobody can win, unless we vote seriously.”
Sharpton then introduced the mothers and widows of victims killed by police: Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou Diallo’s mother; Esaw Garner, Eric Garner’s widow; Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother; Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother; Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother; Constance Malcolm, Ramarley Graham’s mother; Valerie and William Bell, Sean Bell’s mother and father.
It was not surprising that there was such a strong presence of these mothers and families of Black victims. They were among the first to have shown their support of Clinton and she has worked with some of them through the years. Clinton who had paid tribute to them in February said, “It was a great honor spending time with them.”
As if in response to the sentiments expressed by the earlier panel, “2016: A Transitional Election Year with Much at Stake,” Clinton stated, “If we’re gonna ask African Americans to vote for us, we cannot take you or your vote for granted. We can’t just show up at election time and say the right things and think that’s enough. We can’t start building relationships a few weeks before a vote.”
Her strong position on the issue of gun violence is one of the few key areas that distinguishes her from her Democratic opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders, which she addressed. “My opponent does not see it the same way, but I think this a national emergency. And I’m going to do everything I can to take on the gun lobby and try and do everything I can to save lives.”
Clinton continued: “There’s something wrong when gun violence is by far the leading cause of death for young Black men. There’s something wrong when Black kids get arrested for petty crimes, but White kids for the same crimes don’t…Something’s wrong when so many Black parents are burying their children… and it’s a time we face up to systemic racism in all its forms. Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind. Race is the single biggest factor determining whether you live near a toxic site, from ‘asthma alley’ in the Bronx to ‘cancer alley’ in Louisiana.”
It is for this reason Clinton announced she is not only proposing reforming the criminal justice system, she’s also proposing a major $125 billion plan to revitalize communities of color and places where poverty remains stubbornly high. She also announced a new plan for environmental justice to get rid of lead in Flint, Michigan and everywhere else in five years.
However, Clinton was quick to remind attendees of her Republican opponent Trump’s divisive campaign and she called the Republican frontrunner out, stating, “when he was asked to disavow David Duke and other White supremacists supporting his campaign, he played coy and the list goes on. And everyone [can] see this bigotry for what it is. It’s up to all of us to repudiate it.” Coming to the defense of New Yorkers, Clinton said, “our diversity is our strength not our weakness.”
Clinton shared how being introduced to Marian Wright Edelman, the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi bar and the transformative experience working for her at the Children’s Defense Fund, straight out of law school. It was there that she saw how her faith in working for social justice and change could become a viable career. “Whether I was investigating Black teens being incarcerated, segregated academies, or running legal clinics for prisoners and poor people. It was all a part of the same mission to fight injustice and even the odds for those who had them stacked against them.”
Clinton’s closing remarks were met with thunderous applause.
“I have worked on these causes all my adult life,” she said. “I am gonna keep going at it no matter what.”
Joan H. Allen is the associate publisher of the Daily Challenge and a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Learn more about becoming a member at www.NNPA.org.