Savannah’s business leaders, educators and politicians tackled pressing questions Saturday about “The Future of Black America” with CNN’s commentator Roland S. Martin at the First Black Expo Tour at the International Trade and Convention Center.
Moderated by City Alderman Van Johnson, the panelists expressed opinions about everything from health care, job creations to the funding of historically black colleges. They offered civil debate on all those issues, but the majority of the panelists seemed to agree that if President Barack Obama has an agenda focusing on job creation, health care and other issues facing the country’s poorest citizens, it could be translated into a black agenda. “We need to be very careful about splitting hairs. The president may never call it a black agenda,” said Dr. Millicent E. Brown, associate professor at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C. “If we’re going to move the country forward we must lift those lowest on the totem pole,” said President of Carver State Bank Robert James. “We can’t talk about a black agenda without talking about an economic agenda,” said Otis Brock, chief operations officer for the Savannah- Chatham County Public Schools. “We can talk about the disparities in education and funding for HBCUS,” he said. Said Mayor Otis S. Johnson, “Are we concerned about rhetoric or action? The president is having enough opposition. .. If the president has a jobs, health, public safety and environment agenda, if it is genuine, who will it help? If he has an agenda to address those things, the Black agenda will be addressed. If we push this opposition, we’ll have more problems than we need to have.” Cathy P. Hill, the vice president of the Coastal Region for Georgia Power, reminded the panelists that the United States is made up of a “diverse tapestry.” A comprehensive agenda “understands the needs of black people. .. It becomes our responsibility to make sure our needs are heard,” she said. CNN analyst Roland Martin challenged the panel not to soft peddle the issue about a need to articulate a Black Agenda to the Obama administration. “Why are we afraid to offend White people? Why are we afraid to ask for something?”
Alderman Johnson asked the panel about the impact that health care reform will have on the African-American community.
Martin said the community should take advantage of the changes in the health care industry by planning to expand businesses to meet the needs of more people seeking care. Hill agreed. “It’s important to be prepared for the opportunities.”
Mayor Johnson said the Obama administration should continue working on offering a public option. And, State Rep. J. Craig Gordon said Congress should ensure that health care is affordable for small businesses.
The final hot button issue addressed federal funding for historically black colleges. Dr. Earl G. Yarbrough, the president of Savannah State University said, while he did not graduate from a historically black college, he applauded the fact that many black doctors, lawyers and leaders in the country did. “It does so much for many.”
Brown said, the community shouldn’t be “conflicted about whether our children can get a good education” at a black college. She said, the community should be honest about its assessment of black colleges. “Some are producing and some are not.”
Tina A. Brown is a freelance
based in Savannah. She can
be reached at