WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The president and chief executive officer of The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Black political think tank based in Washington, D.C., says that while the center has played a critical role in the political progress of Black people during the past four decades, it must now shift its attention and research funds to crucial areas where Black people are still suffering.
"We've done it with a focus on moving African-Americans into the political system in greater numbers – from barely 1,500 elected offices in 1970 to more than 10,000 today," Ralph B. Everett told a crowd of more than 2,000 political insiders and other supporters at the organization's glitzy annual dinner, held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. "The real possibility that a Black president or a woman President will be elected – almost unthinkable just a few years ago – has put race and gender in the center of American dialogue. And that is a good thing."
But while all eyes have been on Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, key research in areas where Blacks have slipped or never thrived is still woefully necessary, Everett says. "Our country faces an enormous task in making the promise of America more accessible to our fellow citizens. The Joint Center has a critical role to play in addressing and eliminating the barriers that prevent our young people from pursuing their dreams."
Describing the community as "a generation at the crossroads," Everett listed health care research that shows African American babies more likely than babies of other races to die in infancy; African-Americans and Hispanics -- historically lagging in home ownership rates – still much more likely than other groups to have sub-prime mortgages; and the worldwide scientific community predicting that "global climate change will bring more intense and more frequent weather events in the not-too-distant future.
"Why should Black people care about that," he asked the energetic audience. "Two-words: Remember Katrina."
Having served as president only about a year, Everett also vowed to address media-led stereotypes and misinformation about Black people, as well as racial minorities' lack of ownership and access "to the new digital world."
Concluding, he said, "In other words, we cannot and will not stand idle while our youth, our communities, our people stand at the crossroads."
At least two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus attended, including its chairwoman, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., and two former Joint Center leaders: Eddie Williams and former Army Secretary Togo West. The audience cheered at the April 8 event when Everett announced the center had raised a record-breaking $1.6 million with this year's dinner – "and we're still counting."
U. S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), House majority whip, received the center's top honor, the Louis E. Martin Great American Award, named for its founder. Clyburn said his colleagues in Congress as well as the next president must work hard to close the disparities Everett had pointed out. "I am determined that we will not be the first generation of Americans to leave their children with fewer opportunities than we had," Clyburn said.
AARP CEO William D. Novelli received the center's first Partnership Award. He pledged to continue support for research and policy analysis, saying: "Americans fear that their children's generation will end up worse off than they are. If that happens, it would be the first time in American history…a big step backwards. We can't let it happen. And that's why our partnership with the Joint Center is so important – it plays a critical role in helping our nation's leaders understand how key issues impact the African American community."
Since it was founded in 1970, the hallmark of the center's work has been recording Black political and economic thought and progress. A recent Joint Center survey of likely Black voters in the Democratic Primaries found the war, health care, jobs/economy and education, were foremost on the minds of African-Americans going to the polls.
Everett pledged to focus the Joint Center's work on improving the prospects of young people of color.
"I firmly believe that America needs the Joint Center now more than ever," he said. "We are going to deliver for America, through research, partnerships and policy reform recommendations. That's what my presidency at the Joint Center is gong to be about. And I welcome and thank you for joining in these efforts."
Everett said he sees the massive financial support as a sign of readiness by the community.
"It is a clear signal that America is ready to confront the difficult social and economic challenges that face our nation and our communities. And they want strong policy institutions to step up and focus on solutions," he said. "We accept and embrace our responsibility to increase the Joint Center's innovation and effectiveness in putting the concerns of communities of color and solutions to their problems at the very top of the nation's policy agenda."