tatyana-ali-joseph-gibbons-and-hazelle-rogers_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — More than 500 powerful policy makers from across the country attended the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Annual Legislative Conference Dec. 2-6 at the Marriott Harbor Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.

This year's conference marked the 33rd anniversary of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and had the largest attendance to date. Since its inception in 1977, NBCSL members have met annually to educate their members on policy issues that affect their constituents, to set policies, and to make recommendations on state and federal legislation.

“We are pleased to hold our ALC in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as we discuss America’s future,” said Georgia State Rep. Calvin Smyre, president of NBCSL. “Our goal is to gain diverse perspectives, and ultimately, provide sound solutions to the president, his administration, and congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, and to bring about the change that our constituents have demanded.”

The event attracted several well-known personalities who spoke to NBCSL members. Among them are White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, actress Tatyana Ali, and actor/author Hill Harper.

During an awards dinner on Dec. 4, Harper – who received a Nation Builder Award from the group for his community service – read a letter he received from a young jail inmate. The young man told Hill in broken English that he had read Hill’s book, Letters To a Young Brother, and was inspired to write himself.

Harper pointed out the sadness of such wasted talent, stating that, “This young man did not fail us. We failed him. I don’t want any more letters like this.’’

NBCSL boasts a membership of over 600 African-American state leaders, corporations and labor unions.

Many of the Florida House legislators – including state Rep. Hazelle Rogers, state Rep. Joseph Gibbons and state Rep. Perry Thurston – were excused from a high-speed and commuter rail special session to participate in the national conference that took two years to plan.

“It's a major deal,” Gibbons said in a news report. “It's a national event. We would be embarrassed if we did not show up.”

At the conference, themed  “Seeing Beyond: Sustainable Progress in the Economic Recovery,” the organization’s policy committees met and discussed 45 resolutions to current bills on lingering social and political struggles that face Americans, particularly African Americans: the economy, health care and education.

In addition to solutions that create new jobs, support federal guaranteed loans to African Americans, rejuvenate lending to small businesses, and restore home ownership, the break-out sessions at the five-day event also focused on alternative energy, local infrastructure, homeland security and international trade relations.

“Many of the resolutions that are introduced and voted on at the conference will be adopted as the policies of NBCSL,” said Kansas state Rep. Barbara Ballard, vice president of NBCSL. “They are placed on our website and sent to other state legislators around the country, Capitol Hill and to the president at the White House.”

Legislators also addressed juvenile justice, ethics, the Recovery Act and the Green Economy, but the highlight of the conference was the “Joint Minority Legislative Broadband Summit.”

During a symposium, the Comcast Foundation gave a $50,000 grant to NBCSL to form the “NBCSL/Comcast Broadband Legislative Fellowship.”

According to a report spearheaded by NBCSL and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies titled Broadband Imperatives for African Americans,  there is a disproportionately low amount of broadband access in African-American communities.

The newly formed fellowship between Comcast and NBCSL will support two graduate- level, public policy fellows to increase research efforts and develop public policy recommendations that organizers hope will increase broadband use by African Americans.

NBCSL will then forward those recommendations as policies to Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as they develop solutions to alleviate broadband access and usage inequality.

In his speech to Comcast, Smyre said, “This is where scholarship and public policy converge to ensure that NBCSL does its part to eradicate the digital divide and provide all Americans with the benefits of broadband.”


Photo by Elgin Jones/ SFT Staff. Actress Tatyana Ali, left, along with Florida state representatives Joseph Gibbons, center, and Hazelle Rogers, right, paused for the cameras Dec. 2 during a press conference at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ annual convention.