Conference Aims to Boost Black City Leadership

At a press conference on July 17, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind., welcomes delegates attending the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials summer conference in the city of Jackson. Photo by Josh Wright

At a press conference on July 17, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind., welcomes delegates attending the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials summer conference in the city of Jackson. Photo by Josh Wright

African Americans must look to city leaders in the absence of supportive leadership from the state and national government, Jackson Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps said at a July 17 press conference.

He was highlighting the central theme of this year's conference for the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, or NBC-LEO; he is its president.

At Wednesday's presser, Rickey Thigpen, president of Visit Jackson, welcomed delegates of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials to the city of Jackson—which he said has "perseverance" and a "triumphant spirit."

"Prepare yourself to be submerged in southern hospitality," Thigpen said. "It is our wish that Jackson, Mississippi, provides the perfect environment to network and further provide the strategies that will impact transformational leadership and the growth of NBC-LEO."

The National League of Cities is an organization that "serves the interests of 19,000 cities, towns, and villages in the US, as well as, professionals working in municipal government," its website says. Within the NLC is the NLC-LEO,a network that represents the interests of black local elected officials.

The caucus hosts an annual summer conference that helps local leaders develop governance and leadership skills that focus on the interests of the African American community. The conference includes seminars, networking and presentations from keynote speakers. This year, the city of Jackson is hosting the conference.

"As we look at a time now where Mississippi now has more black elected officials than any other state, this is certainly an appropriate place to host this conference," Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind., said the National League of Cities understands the importance the black caucus plays in the fabric and meaning of the organization.

"You represent all of those individuals who are disenfranchised, who are sometimes feeling left out and who would not have a voice if not for your willingness to stand up and be heard," she said.

Stamps said this conference is about engagement.

"Engage yourself to get the resolve necessary to push forward because right now Black America doesn't necessarily have a state government to turn to across the country. Black America doesn't have a national government to turn to, so the responsibility of local government is heavier now than it's been in a long time," he said.

He added that black elected officials have to rise above their differences and recommit to their responsibility.

"It's not just about getting elected, coming to a meeting and voting. This conference, this constituency group and this organization is designed to help you garner the tools necessary to stand up to your responsibility as a black elected official in local government," Stamps said.

Conference events began Wednesday and will continue through Sunday. Attendees had sessions this morning with former United States Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy as the luncheon speaker. Following this, delegates will take a tour of Medgar Evers home, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center and other sites around the city, Stamps said.

On Saturday morning, sessions will continue with Bennie G. Thompson, representative for Mississippi's 2nd Congressional District, as the luncheon speaker. They will visit Tougaloo that afternoon, and that night, they will attend a concert at Thalia Mara Hall with Regina Belle and Eric Benet. The conference will conclude with a church service at New Hope Baptist Church at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday.

"I can think of no better way to finish our conference off (than) with a powerful word from (Pastor) Jerry Young," he said.

Follow Jackson Free Press reporting intern Aliyah Veal on Twitter @AliyahJFP. Send tips to [email protected].

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