pb-links-luncheon_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — The guest list read like a who’s who among notables. From college presidents to local and national leaders, top law enforcement to political officials, they all came out Saturday to the Links Incorporated West Palm Beach Chapter’s 33rd  Annual White Rose Luncheon.

A capacity crowd of 400 paid $75 each to help the women’s service group send deserving students to college and to hear MSNBC analyst Melissa Harris-Perry deliver a rousing commentary that was filled with humor but often poignant and sobering. The event took place at the swanky Ritz Carlton in Manalapan, a well-to-do enclave situated along A1A south of Palm Beach.

Harris-Perry, author of the new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, and also a professor at Tulane University, drew rave reviews with her clever and often colorful commentary about everything from poverty to racial and economic disparity, incarceration, health care and joblessness.


During an interview before the luncheon, Harris-Perry, who describes herself as a liberal Democrat, offered a surprising twist on the Herman Cain debacle. She said she wouldn’t have advised Cain to drop out of the Republican presidential race, despite his alleged transgressions involving sexual harassment and a 13-year affair. Cain suspended his campaign bid for presidency later Saturday.

“I would’ve advised him not to pull out, and here’s why. He is a citizen, and he hasn’t broken any rules that have been proven in a court of law. He doesn’t have any convictions, and we’re making an assumption that voters are going to reject him on the basis of these [allegations],” Harris-Perry said. “If I were him, I would stay in at least through the Iowa caucuses and get matching campaign funds.”

Harris-Perry said Cain isn’t necessarily qualified to be president, having never held office. But, neither, she said, was former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. “Clarence Thomas wasn’t particularly qualified to be a (U.S.) Supreme Court justice, but he’s on the Supreme Court until the day he dies.”


Harris-Perry regularly can be seen offering such commentary on MSNBC’s popular The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. She can be seen bi-weekly in her own Sound Off segment during the Dayside show with Thomas Roberts. She has taught at Princeton University, and in 2009 became the youngest scholar to deliver the W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures at Harvard University. She is the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South.   


Clearly concerned about racial and gender inequality, Harris-Perry painted in her speech a poignant picture of poverty with the startling statistic that the median wealth for unmarried black women over the age of 25 is $5. “That means that half of the black, unmarried women 25 and older — half of them — have personal wealth that is less than five dollars,” she said. She also pointed out disparities in healthcare among African Americans as opposed to other citizens: “The real racial story is that from inception all the way to the end we are sicker, we die prematurely, we have less access to doctors, and we have less access to medicine.”


Harris-Perry said she believes President Obama is among the best presidents ever — contrary to common belief among those who disparage the president over the country’s economic conditions. “I believe Barack Obama is an exceptional president, and with the opportunity for a second term, I think he will be remembered as an exceptional president,” she said.


In attendance at the posh event were two retired college presidents and the current president of Palm Beach State College, Dennis P. Gallon. Former president of Florida A&M University Walter L. Smith, who led the university from 1977-85, was in attendance, as well as former president of Shaw University in North Carolina, Talbert O. Shaw, who although it was not named for him, has the same name as the school. He sat with the school’s most famous alumnus and largest donor, attorney Willie Gary.  All of their wives are members of the Links organization.

Others in the capacity gathering included state Rep. Mack Bernard, Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor and longtime county political stalwart Addie Greene. Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams was in attendance in support of his wife Ethel Isaacs Williams, the chapter’s president.

Photo: Melissa Harris-Perry