LITHONIA, Ga. – Black leaders debated Saturday how to develop a checklist of political priorities that could be submitted to politicians seeking support from black voters.
Tavis Smiley (search), the PBS late-night talk show host, asked about 40 leaders to consider whether a checklist could further the black American political agenda. He initially offered the checklist, or "contract," as a political sword, but others said it would be better used as a self-improvement tool for black Americans.
"The next time you come calling on our vote, you come correct on the contract or you don't come at all," Smiley said at the sixth annual State of the Black Union Symposium (search), which also included the Rev. Al Sharpton (search) and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (search).
"Black folk have always been the conscience of this country," Smiley said. "We are doing our part to help redeem the soul of America ... When we make black America better, we make all of America better."
There was no consensus on how the contract would be used. More meetings will be held to develop the list, which could include as many as 10 priorities.
Farrakhan said politicians and political parties could not be trusted to fulfill a contract. He said any checklist should be used to mobilize black Americans.
"Power concedes nothing without a demand, but power won't even concede to a demand if it comes from a weak constituency," Farrakhan said.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (search), suggested any contract be called a covenant. "We've got to recapture that spirituality; that's our strength," Lowery said.
Other panels at the symposium included former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Princeton professor Cornel West (search), former Detroit mayor Dennis Wayne Archer and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.