As the ramifications of the 2016 and 2018 elections continue to pile up and the stakes in 2020 loom large, scores of young Black go-getters gathered in Washington, D.C., in May to swap notes and set a political game plan.
The rally point was the second annual Black Millennial Convention (BMC), which aims to “advance racial equity, increase Black political power, and expand civic engagement” among people of African descent, ages 24 to 38.
“[The goal is] developing a Black Millennial agenda to show the country that we have power, we are unified, we’re engaged, we’re getting involved. The goal is … the liberation of our people,” said Wes Bellamy, co-chair and co-founder of the three-day conference.
In November 2017, Bellamy, a city councilman in Charlottesville, Va., floated the idea of a “National Black Political Millennial Conference” via Twitter. The idea quickly caught on, attracting notables such as Michigan State Rep. Jewell Jones (who became Michigan’s youngest state representative when he was elected in 2016 at age 21), Waikinya J.S. Clanton, who is the Democratic National Committee’s director of African American and Women's Outreach, and other leaders to serve on its steering committee.
Many of the BMC’s organizers are already members of the NAACP and other Black-led justice groups. And conventions and political organizations geared toward millennial concerns on all sides of the aisle are also thriving in today’s political climate. Still, BMC organizers and attendees say there is a need for forums that specifically center on them.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be part of other things. We need organizations like the NAACP, National Urban League. There’s a level of institutional knowledge that we just don’t have,” Bellamy told The Crisis Magazine, adding that he had researched and been inspired by the 1972 National Black Political Convention.
“Simultaneously, we need space for ourselves. If this is indeed our time, we need to be able to be together and build in a safe space.”
Across the country, the socio-political shift toward millennials is well underway. According to the Pew Research Center, they’re already the largest generation in the workforce, and occupy close to 30 seats in the House of Representatives. For the first time, a millennial is running for president (Mayor Pete Buttigieg is 37).
The Black Millennial Political convention explored three tracks: [political] pipeline, policy, and power to the people. There were also sessions on Black women’s wellness and political trailblazing, workers’ rights, and the choice between community organizing/activism and running for public office, among other topics.
“I decided to run for office because I felt like, who else was going to help my community but me?” Brandon Scott, the 35-year-old Baltimore City Council president said in a panel discussion.
“I’m not going to just stand by and wait for someone who didn’t grow up where I grew up, who didn’t see the bodies drop that I saw drop, who was never harassed by the police just for breathing while Black, who didn’t go to schools with no heat and no air. They’re never going to know what I know about growing up poor and Black in Baltimore. So I had to do it. Because if I didn’t no one else would.”
In its first year, the convention drew about 250 attendees and intergenerational involvement from public figures such as author and scholar Michael Eric Dyson, political commentator Angela Rye and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza. This year included keynotes from Andrew Gillum, former mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., and Florida gubernatorial candidate, and educator and activist Brittany Packnett. There was also a rally and march for equity.
In the coming year, organizers hope to offer regional summits, and more robust organizing for upcoming local, state, and national elections.
Nikita Robinson, 32, traveled from Boston to attend the convention, after enjoying last year’s inaugural convention and its accompanying sessions during the 2018 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference.
“There is going to be a difference in generation. There’s also going to be a difference in ethnic demographics – not [only] racial, but ethnic. Somebody that’s from the West Indies versus Africa versus the U.S. – there are going to be different thoughts.
“If we come together, we can think, we can help support each other, give each other ideas, and make each other aware of things that are going on. But then we need to go into the spaces that don’t look like us. We can’t beg others to do things for us, we need to be at the table.”