To encourage black community members across Texas to become more politically and economically involved, black educators, activists, business leaders and elected officials shared their personal stories at the African American Legislative Summit in Austin.
The summit ends today and features panels on business development, education, representation in media and politics and legislative issues concerning African-American communities in Texas. About 3,000 attendees are expected for both days, according to Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, the chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on African-American issues in Texas and organized the 11th annual summit.
Daniel Clayton, legislative aide to caucus member Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the purpose of these panels is to provide people with the opportunity to educate themselves and to become familiar with the legislative process.
Clayton said the summit ensures that lawmakers are available to hear their constituents.
“I think people recognize the magnitude of issues we are facing, [including] the budget shortfalls,” Turner said.
Turner said people are concerned future generations will have to bear the burden of budget shortfalls. He said these shortfalls would affect children, senior citizens, low-income people and especially students.
“It’s time to mobilize at all levels,” Turner said. “We need to see more activism come out of the students.”
A roundtable panel on Monday gave people the opportunity to hear personal stories from public officials, business titans, as well as policy professionals. Black elected officials encouraged their constituents to run for office and become more politically involved to get their voices heard.
“If you look at the world right now, the change is coming from the youth,” said Rep. James White, R-Hillster.
Old policies and laws need to be replaced by fresh ideas, White said. Many jobs that are going to be lost because of budget shortfalls are jobs that needed to be replaced with new opportunities, he said.
Lancaster City Council member Nina Morris said she wants to encourage young people to run for public office. She said she ran at a very young age and became one of the first black females to be elected to public office in her city.
“I just want you all to know that [this] is your time,” Morris said. “There is no better time.”
“I am here to learn and see what the direction of the state of Texas is particularly for the African-American communities,” said Shirley James, who attended the summit.
She said although black communities are growing in economic sector, the business developments are still lagging behind.
“There is this disparity, and we need to close that gap,” James said.