Tavis Smiley (left) hosts The State of the Black Union 2005: Defining The African American Agenda. Panel members are pictured above. Photo: Askia Muhammad

LITHONIA, GA (FinalCall.com) – The very framework of Black Power in U.S. affairs–in world affairs–may have shifted dramatically here, Feb. 27.

“There has been a paradigm shift,” declared Dr. Cornel West, professor of Religion at Princeton University, during the all-day “State of the Black Union” discussion hosted by television and radio host Tavis Smiley. The fundamental shift, Dr. West explained, was from “parochial” individual “ambition,” focusing instead on “addressing the problems of our people.”

Mr. Smiley invited three dozen distinguished Black thinkers, religious leaders, labor leaders elected officials–including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, civil rights leader Joseph Lowery, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson among them–to participate in three public discussions to consider what might appear in a definitive African American Agenda as a “contract” or “covenant” used to hold politicians and others seeking Black support accountable.


“The next time you come calling on our vote, you come correct on the contract or you don’t come at all,” Mr. Smiley declared in the first afternoon panel, held at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church–a so-called “mega-church” in suburban Atlanta.

The grounds of New Birth are an architectural marvel. It is a modern entertainment arena, adapted instead into a sanctuary for the worship of God. In addition, the church grounds boast a modern Family Life Center as well as a parking lot which can accommodate thousands of cars and dozens of buses.

But New Birth’s pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, who has supported banning gay marriage, was the subject of criticism right here in his own church. Several speakers, including the Rev. Jackson, took aim at a visit that Bishop Long and other Black pastors made to President George. W. Bush at the White House in January.

Bishop Long responded good-naturedly, saying he thought it was important that Black religious leaders gain access to powerful circles. “Just because we went to the house,” he said, “does not mean we had intercourse.” The audience of 5,000 roared its approval.

Earlier, in a private meeting, Bishop Long held hands with Min. Farrakhan–whom he met for the first time that day–and the men prayed together. Bishop Long said he hoped that the time would end when Black leaders have to “meet each other through the media” instead of working together, face to face.

Min. Farrakhan’s appearance at the event at all was eventful. Mr. Smiley’s annual “State of the Black Union” forum takes place in late February, when the Muslim leader is normally preparing for the Nation of Islam’s annual “Saviours’ Day” observance in Chicago. The times ahead are critical however, Min. Farrakhan explained, and he decided to attend and deliver an important message.

“If they are so afraid of ‘weapons of mass destruction,’” the Muslim leader said, “my teacher, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, said: ‘Our unity is more powerful than an atomic or hydrogen bomb.’ That’s the one thing we have never tried.

“We’ve kneeled-in, crawled-in, prayed-in, lied-in, slept-in, but still, we’re out. If you want to get what you want, we’ve got to start with a contract, with us. A contract, a covenant, with us. We in leadership, make a covenant with your people, that we will never sell them out,” said Min. Farrakhan. “That’s what we’re talking about, Brother Farrakhan,” agreed Dr. West.

“We as leaders, so-called, must make a covenant with our people that nothing is more important than the salvation of our people, who are now on a death march! While we’re singing and dancing and popping our fingers, and shaking our backsides to the world, we are on a death march into ovens, but not the same oven called Auschwitz. But it is a destruction coming to our people through bad healthcare, no health insurance, HIV/AIDS, drive-by shootings, gang conflict, crack cocaine. We have now become the enemy of ourselves.”

The solution, Min. Farrakhan concluded, is Black unity. “There are some who are watching by television and some in this audience who think that we will never come together, that we will never make the right covenant or contract. I say to you: Go back and read your scripture.” Min. Farrakhan then referred to the Biblical story in the Book of Ezekiel about the dry bones in the valley.

“So the Son of Man went back to His Sender and he said, ‘I been talking, the bones have been shaking, but there’s no life in them.’ He said, ‘Well don’t talk to the bones no more. Prophesy to the winds, and let the winds blow on these bones.

“You see, Bush is a wind. Your rejection at the table is a wind. My brothers going to dinner in the White House and can’t come away with what’s in the best interest of all our people; Jesse running twice, but still couldn’t come away with what our people need, all of this is a farce, if, if, we don’t make up our minds–today–to make this contract, this covenant, today. Not with us and the Democratic Party. To hell with the Democratic Party and to hell with the Republican Party. If they want our vote, let’s come as a unified body.”

In a few words, that describes the “paradigm shift.” Bishop Long defined it this way:

“There just has to be an understanding among us, which is already starting to evolve at this moment. As the Bible says: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ What we’re gathering now, what we’re doing now, is projecting the vision, that a people now can follow, and buy in on, and move on.

“The real work is not what I have to say as a closing remark. I’m not going to prolong the time. The real work is, if we commit ourselves to one another, to coming together, to projecting, to giving a God-given, unified vision to the people, that motivates us to carry us through, everything we have to go through to achieve the goal which we have stated–that is what God ordained for us, and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves,” Bishop Long continued.