By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer-

NEW YORK ( – “Think!” exclaimed Johanna Fernandez, an assistant professor of History at Baruch College in NYC. “Why was Trayvon Martin killed? It happened because our society has criminalized Black and Latino youth from the womb,” she told The Final Call in the hallway at an annual Left Forum conference here.

Prof. Fernandez called for a “campaign of decriminalization” of Black and Latino youth in the streets, not in the ivy-covered halls of higher education.

She also said the Left should be leading such campaigns, and, in particular the Black Left.


“We must develop a Marshall Plan for our communities to tackle unemployment, now at Depression era levels; health care, housing issues; and the draconian program cuts by the One Percent,” Prof. Fernandez said.

Prof. Fernandez is among Leftists who convened the annual three-day conference at Pace University in lower Manhattan in mid-March, March 16-18, which calls itself the largest gathering in North America of civil libertarians, environmentalists, Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, trade unionists, Black and Latino freedom fighters, feminists, anti-war activists, students and people struggling against unemployment, foreclosure, inadequate housing and inadequate schools.

According to conference materials, the Left Forum, “with the theme “Occupy the System: Confronting Global Capitalism,” provides a “context for critical engagement by people of different persuasions on the Left who, nevertheless, seek common ground.”

Prof. Fernandez along with Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of the Dept. of Africana Studies at the Calif. State University-Long Beach; Michael C. Dawson, Jr., professor of political science and director at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, and Prof. Komozi Woodard, professor of history, public policy and Africana Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, participated in a workshop that attempted to find a “common ground” between the Black Left and the Black and Latino communities.

The workshop was called “Black America and the Left: Where Do We Go From Here? What is To Be Done?” Prof. Dawson, addressing the standing room only crowd, said the discussion was happening between “those of us who believe that we should rebuild radical Black politics.”

“Where do we go from here?” he asked, nodding to the panelists. And answering his own question, Prof. Dawson said, “Build a movement based on our own realities.”

The author of “Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies,” said Black politicians must be held accountable for the conditions in the Black community. “Black politicians and other Black leaders remain silent against American imperialism,” he said.

“We have to solve these issues,” said Dr. Karenga, answering a Final Call question. He is also the founder of Kwaanza, the Black holiday, and the Black Power-era Us organization.

“I am urging us to go back to the community,” said Prof. Woodard. “Part of the pride of being on the Left is you know what is happening,” he added.

All of the panelists agreed with Prof. Dawson, who said the Black Left has to develop a Black Liberation strategy that leads to “self-determination” for Blacks and Latinos.

“Self-determination is key,” Dr. Karenga added.

Prof. Roderick Bush, associate professor of sociology at St. John’s University and author of “We Are Not What We Seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle in the American Cities,” told The Final Call there has been for some time a discussion amongst the Black Left about the need “to have an organization composed of Blacks talking about economic development and ‘do-for-self.’ ”

Prof. Bush was part of the “Is There a Crisis of the Black Left?” panel.

“One of the larger challenges facing Black radicals is can they speak the language of the Black working class?” argued Bill Fletcher, Jr., a longtime racial justice, labor and international activist. Mr. Fletcher, one of the founding members of the Black Radical Congress, said it is important for the Black Left to “participate in real organizations that actually represent working people.”

Mr. Fletcher appeared on panels at the Left Forum that included “Getting Serious about Class Dynamics in 2012 USA” and “Occupy Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary.”

Saladin Muhammad, a member of the North Carolina-based Black Workers for Justice and The Black Left Unity Network, was scheduled to appear on the panel “Occupy Wall St. and Rebuilding the Black Liberation Movement Roundtable.”

He didn’t make the conference but spoke to The Final Call from his home.

“The Black Left Unity Network is developing a plan of action through a system of national conference calls, there have been three so far,” Mr. Muhammad said. A “Peoples’ Primary” that would allow for a cross-section of opinions to be put forth is being planned, so that actions may be in accord with grassroots’ thinking, he said.

“We will develop activities that give voice to the masses of our people, a national demand to look at issues and opportunities that we can unite around that brings forth a peoples’ mandate,” Mr. Muhammad said.

Chris Silvera, unionist and Pan Africanist, encountered The Final Call in a hallway during the Left Forum. He said, the “Black Left better recognize that the bottom line is to go into the community and develop self-reliance.”