A year after offering a blueprint for rebuilding black America, author Tavis Smiley will bring the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other black thinkers to Virginia this month to discuss putting the plan for economic, political and educational revival into action.
The State of the Black Union, scheduled Feb. 9-10 at historically black Hampton University, will include the Rev. Al Sharpton, Princeton professor Cornel West and L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, among other panelists.
The eight-year-old forum is modeled after the annual presidential address, drawing national leaders to discuss black America's most pressing issues and strategize on solutions.
"People are looking for some sort of messianic figure to crack the clouds and deliver us," said Smiley, who hosts black-geared shows on PBS and Public Radio International. "Everyday people are going to have to do the best they can."
This year's forum coincides with Jamestown 2007, 18 months of events commemorating the 400th anniversary of the nation's first permanent English settlement.
Included are celebrations of the contributions blacks and other minorities made to sustaining early colonists. Smiley said it's fitting that, near the site of where black slaves first arrived, modern blacks gather to chart a course for the future.
"Black people are concerned," said Smiley, who called Jamestown's 400th anniversary an ideal time to reverse community ills. "If we are ever going to get busy, now is the time."
Nearly 400 years after African slaves first arrived on Virginia's shores in 1619, modern blacks face decaying marriages, an obesity epidemic and skyrocketing incarceration rates.
In Virginia, racial tension lingers: A proposal to offer a state apology for black enslavement recently prompted one white lawmaker to suggest blacks "should get over" the institution.