The USA Ambassador to the European Union William E. Kennard closed the 2nd Transatlantic Black leadership conference in Brussels on Thursday 3rd of June.
In the spirit of Black leadership, the recently appointed Ambassador Kennard, the first African American to hold the position, told his audience, that if he’d told his parents that he would be ‘appointed to such a high profile and prestigious post, much less by the first African American President’, they would have thought their son was losing his marbles. ‘And yet there it was’, he said, ‘Black leadership taking up posts that were hitherto, out of bounds even for the most talented of African Americans, but today we are changing all that’.
The 2nd Conference jointly organised by the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, brings together leading players in the field of political and community leadership from across the USA and Europe, to share ideas on political empowerment, policies that increase Black and minority ethnic representation, and tackle persistent race inequalities.
The organisers have always felt that the UK has a particular role to play given that in Europe many see UK Black activists lead much of the debate on race equality. Delegates were saddened that key note speaker and one of the founder members, Diane Abbott MP, could not attend. However they were delighted to hear that one of their own was standing for the leadership of the Labour Party. In her absence she received a rousing applause, as did Oona King for her pitch to become London’s powerful Mayor. The message was that Black British women were at the forefront of political change.
A highlight of an action packed few days came from our key host, Congressman Alcee Hastings. In his opening remarks he talked about his dream of bringing special people together from around the globe to tackle inequalities, and give hope to many who have been blighted by racial prejudice. It was his mission he stated, ‘to have a comprehensive website that would inform and inspire not just the Black delegates that attended these conferences but many others around the world that would benefit from initiatives’ that are making a difference.
I chaired the panel that explored direct initiatives to tackle lack of representation in local and national politics. One of the panelists, Rosa Brignone, Head of the European Parliamentary Equality and Diversity Unit, lamented how slow things move within the EU when it comes to greater diversity. She explained that Claude Moares MEP, had worked closer with their unit demanding they change their recruitment practices in order to be more inclusive. But it was Dr Hassan Bousetta, a local Councillor in Liege, Belgium, who offered real hope to delegates. He informed the audience that from a very low base, big cities such as Brussels and Liege had a greater percentage of minority representation in their elected authorities than the percentage of their population. This he stated was due to a number of factors including compulsory voting and proportional representation.
As chair I was able to talk about the Black British experience including nearly doubling the number of Black MP’s and defeating the racist British National Party surge in parts of the UK.
For me it was an inspiring few days to listen, learn and share ideas. I was struck, for example, by a young Black French national – who’s name I didn’t catch but I will track down – who became a mediator between the French police and the rioting Parisians during the 2005 riots. Soon afterwards he became a local councillor, and every week he invites young men and women into his offices to talk to them about improving their lives, and highlighting what he can do as their representative.
It reminded me of something I’d forgotten. Most Black politicians find their way into public life as a direct result of fighting injustice. This is also the narrative of OBV.
By Simon Woolley