Spring 2014
NBCSL EVENTS: 37th Annual Legislative Conference Highlights

PROGRESS: Moving Our States Forward through Policy Action

By Lauren E. Williams, NBCSL Communications and Research Associate serves as NBCSL’s Communications and Research Associate. She was formerly a Chief of Staff and Communications for an Atlanta City Councilmember and has provided communications and media support to elected officials and government officials on several levels including municipal, state, and national. Ms. Williams holds a master’s in Public Administration, a bachelor’s in Communications and Rhetoric, and served as a Communications Fellow and Diversity Program Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Congressional Research Service, respectively.
01 ArmstrongOpeningOpening Plenary and Humanitarian Presentation: NBCSL President, Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN) bangs his gavel to officially open the 37th Annual Legislative Conference.The National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) held its 37th Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) December 11–14, 2013, at the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. NBCSL’s ALC convenes leaders from all sectors—corporate, nonprofit, labor, and government—to discuss current legislative issues impacting communities and the nation as a whole. The 30+ states represented were as diverse as California, Connecticut, Alabama, Florida, Delaware, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, and Iowa.

This year’s theme, “PROGRESS:  Moving Our States Forward through Policy Action,” was reflected in the breadth and depth of the policy conversations throughout the event. Through committee sessions, plenary panels, and distinguished lectures, the ALC highlighted how state legislators are advancing policy issues that affect underrepresented populations.

“Our members are on the front lines of policy writing to help spur job creation and bring economic justice to under-served communities,” explained NBCSL President, Representative Joe Armstrong (TN). “Each year, our legislative conference provides a critical framework for policies that will drive state and federal legislation.”

The 2013 NBCSL ALC paid special homage to Representative Lois DeBerry (TN), former NBCSL President and Tennessee Speaker Pro Tempore, who passed away on July 28, 2013.  Representative DeBerry was the second Black woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly and the first woman speaker pro tempore of the House.  First elected in 1972, she was the longest-serving member of the Tennessee House of Representatives and one of the longest-serving in the United States.  Representative DeBerry was NBCSL’s first female president, and this year, NBCSL’s Annual Prayer Breakfast and Memorial Service was re-named in her honor.

Prior to NBCSL ALC’s official opening, legislators took part in a pre-conference workshop sponsored by Reynolds American, Inc. (RAI).  On Monday, December 9, participants toured RAI’s Memphis facility, observed the packing process, and discussed innovations currently in development. Attendees also engaged in a Q&A session with RAI on the impact of e-cigarettes and ways in which the tobacco industry is working to reduce harm to consumers.

On Wednesday, December 11, NBCSL’s ALC officially began with two events focused on youth. On-site, over 250 Youth Congress Day high school students from east and west Tennessee engaged in mock government sessions, listened to the motivational speech of Dr. Dennis Rahiim, and enjoyed a message and performance from Grammy Award-winning artist CeCe Winans. Off-site, more than 20 NBCSL corporate members ventured to Whitehaven High School for an empowering Corporate Round Table (CRT) school visit. “I thank NBCSL for the opportunity to go into the community and talk to our youth,” stated Cleo Washington, Chair of NBCSL’s CRT. “When I was growing up, I didn’t see many people that looked like me doing and achieving great things. We want to let kids know that there are many avenues to success. With hard work and dedication, they can be business men and women, lawyers, legislators, or whatever they’d like to be.”

The next three days featured a cornucopia of policy and social events, including a Humanitarian award presentation and Opening Plenary Breakfast, six policy sessions, a plenary discussion on civil rights televised by C-SPAN, and an awards gala and reception honoring state caucus leaders and individuals who have significant contributions to the social and political progress of African Americans.

On Thursday morning, Vice President Joe Biden gave a surprise video tribute to Representative Calvin Smyre (GA), NBCSL’s Humanitarian awardee, followed by a rousing keynote address from Operation HOPE CEO and Founder, John Hope Bryant. Policy sessions followed, consisting of 90-minute interactive conversations with thought-leaders, practitioners, and innovators. Topics included Affordable Care Act implementation, forging a Black agenda on immigration, youth development, leveraging the power of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to develop rural communities, building an energy infrastructure, and revolutionizing the reintegration of returning citizens from jails and prisons. Notable speakers included former U.S. Congressman J. C. Watts; Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Anton Gunn; Executive Director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, Dr. George Cooper; and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton. Attendees left each session with policy recommendations and tools to apply in their states. 

The 2013 David P. Richardson and David S. Holmes awards celebration kicked off with a special event honoring state caucus chairs and continued with a star-studded event. Author and syndicated radio host, Michael Baisden accepted his Nation Builder award alongside actor, Cylk Cozart and educator and commentator, Dr. Steve Perry.

Friday also held NBCSL’s policy ratification session where legislators discussed and debated issues presented to the organization for consideration throughout the year.  By the close of the conference, 34 policy resolutions were ratified. These resolutions become the basis for NBCSL’s 2014 Policy platform covering these main areas: 1) Supporting a 21st Century Marketplace, 2) Improving Health Outcomes, 3) Civil Rights and Equality, 4) Promoting Equality and Access, and 5) Financial Justice.

“NBCSL’s Policy Resolutions identify a policy problem at the state or federal level and offer solutions for all members to implement,” said NBCSL President-Elect, Senator Catherine Pugh (MD). “It is our hope that through passing relevant policy resolutions, we can improve the lives of our constituents.”

The four-day event ended with a closing plenary titled, “Galvanizing State Action on Civil Rights.” Covered by C-SPAN, the culminating session focused on developing a unified plan for civil rights action. The panel was moderated by Roland Martin from TV One’s NewsOne Now and featured Doug Blackmon, Pulitzer Prize winner;  Lucia McBath, mother of slain Florida teen Jordan Russell Davis; Tamika Mallory, former Executive Director of the National Action Network; and Kim McCray, Executive Director of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

Other events held at this year’s conference were the Benjamin S. Ruffin Corporate Round Table Luncheon with Senior Vice President/Chief HR and Diversity Officer for FedEx Express, Shannon A. Brown; the NOBEL/Women Legislative Breakfast with Emmy-award winning actress, Lynn Whitfield; the Lois M. DeBerry Prayer Breakfast and Memorial Service with Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church-Broad Church, Reverend Keith Norman; and the ASPiRE TV Viewing Lounge.

The purpose of the ALC is to expose legislators and stakeholders to issues of great national importance so that they leave the event better informed, ready to collaborate, and prepared to take policy action. NBCSL thanks its participants, sponsors, and speakers for making this event a great success and looks forward to our 2014 ALC in Dallas, TX taking place December 10-13! To view all speakers and the conference agenda, please visit: http://nbcsl.org/conference2013/.

More Conference Highlights

  • To see the 2013 schedule, please click here.
  • For a full list of conference speakers, please click here.
  • For a list of all 2013 honorees, please click here. Congratulations to all recipients!
Click to enlarge image 02_Colors.jpg

NBCSL Opening Breakfast and Humanitarian Presentation: The 13th USCT Living History Honor Guard marches to the front of the room to post the colors (flags).

NBCSL Communications and Research Associate serves as NBCSL’s Communications and Research Associate. She was formerly a Chief of Staff and Communications for an Atlanta City Councilmember and has provided communications and media support to elected officials and government officials on several levels including municipal, state, and national. Ms. Williams holds a master’s in Public Administration, a bachelor’s in Communications and Rhetoric, and served as a Communications Fellow and Diversity Program Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Congressional Research Service, respectively.

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