Transforming Struggle into Progress: TLBC Hosts Successful 2017 African American Legislative Summit in Austin

ABOVE: State Senator Borris Miles (Houston) hosted a powerful panel concerning improving relations between law enforcement and the Black community at the TLBC in Austin, with invited guests and participants

From February 26-28, 2017 the Texas Legislative Black Caucus (TLBC) hosted its biennial African American Legislative Summit at the Hilton Austin Hotel in Downtown Austin.

Thousands of thought leaders, organizations, students, community leaders and other elected officials attended the three-day event, which featured notable speakers and honorees, musical entertainment and several deserving scholarship recipients from high schools all across Texas at the scholarship banquet and galas. Attendees also enjoyed the musical talents of three of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) – Texas Southern University Pro Ensemble, Prairie View A&M Jazz Ensemble and Wiley College Choir.

This year’s theme, Transforming Struggle into Progress, explored and examined critical issues impacting African American communities across the diverse state of Texas, particularly with the arrival of a new administration in Washington, D.C. that is still dealing with gridlock. The 2017 Legislative Summit held various sessions, where panelists and attendees examined important issues in the African American community such as human trafficking, creating wealth, reforming education outcomes for African American males, enhancing the Black family, eliminating barriers to contracting with the State of Texas, health disparities, engaging Millennials in the political process and improving police relationships within the Black community.

Forward Times Associate Editor Jeffrey L. Boney served as a panelist on the “Improving Police Relationships Within the Black Community” panel, along with various law enforcement professionals from across the state of Texas, as well as a member of the Black Lives Matter movement in Austin. Other panelists with local ties to the Greater Houston area included: METRO Police Chief Vera Bumpers, who is the agency’s first woman and first African American police chief; Fort Bend Precinct 2 Constable Gary Majors; and Houston Police Department Sr. Officer Mary Young. The panel session, which was hosted and moderated by State Senator Borris Miles, touched on many important and widely discussed topics and issues that are of importance to both African Americans and to members of law enforcement, and sought to find common ground to deal with the disconnect and chasm that currently exists between many African American communities and many law enforcement agencies across Texas.

The Legislative Summit kicked off on Sunday, Feb. 26, by honoring the achievements and contributions of entrepreneur and philanthropist, Roland Parrish, at the Chair’s Award Gala. On Monday, Feb. 27, in addition to the informative panel discussions that were held, native Texan, Dr. Ruth Simmons, who made history as the first African American to head two Ivy League schools (Smith College and Brown University), served as the keynote speaker at the 2017 Scholarship Banquet, where over $100,000 in scholarships were awarded to deserving Texas high school seniors. On the final day, the TLBC honored 18 fellow citizens with the Outstanding Texan Award for their contributions to the State of Texas and their local communities, and also honored businessman, Edwin Jones, whose engineering firm played a pivotal role in the placement of the Texas African American Historical Monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol by providing project management services. Recipients of the Outstanding Texan Award who were selected by a TLBC member with local ties to the Greater Houston area included: Raymond Sowemimo (Rep. Alma Allen); Jesse Lott (Rep. Garnet Coleman); James Prince (Rep. Harold Dutton); Rev. F.N. Williams (Rep. Jarvis Johnson); Rudy Rasmus (Sen. Borris Miles); Felicia Moon-Thomas (Rep. Ron Reynolds); Roynell Young (Rep. Shawn Thierry); and Tammie Daily (Rep. Senfronia Thompson).

The Texas Legislative Black Caucus was formed in 1973 and consisted of eight members. These founding members were: Anthony Hall, Mickey Leland, Senfronia Thompson, Craig Washington, Sam Hudson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Paul Ragsdale, and G. J. Sutton. The Texas Legislative Black Caucus is composed of 16 members of the Texas House of Representatives and two Members of the Texas Senate committed to addressing the issues African Americans face across the state of Texas.

Rep. Helen Giddings of Dallas currently serves as the Chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus for the 85th Legislative Session and Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston served as the Chair of the Legislative Summit this Session. The Title Sponsor of the 2017 African American Legislative Summit was H-E-B.