Monday, August 25, 2008

DNC - A New Voice: A New Conversation

As I approached the white tents this morning, I could feel the energy in the 85 degree Colorado summer air. I've been looking forward to A New Voice in Downtown Denver's Historic Five Points Business District for a long time. This is one political forum with pizazz. And substance.

Here's a little background. A New Voice is an interactive platform where Americans come together to discuss real issues facing people across racial, gender, class and generational lines. Comprised of a national coalition of concerned citizens, executives, entertainers, artists, and political leaders, A New Voice is dedicated to engaging everyday people in the political process by bringing together youth, students, young professionals and community members.

And they had some Star Power too!

(Alert, star sightings ahead. Clues - The Color Purple and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.)

As I went into the tent, I could hear the sounds of RefleXions, a 5-member vocal group that mingles socially conscious lyrics with eclectic rhythms and multi-dimensional smooth live vocal bass. That's a great way to start a political forum! The music, lyrics, and that heart-pounding rhythm magically turned the huge crowd into an intimate group.

The excitement buzzed the group as Hill Harper took the stage. You may know Hill better as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes, a reclusive coroner in the hit CBS drama series CSI: NY. And let's face it, it doesn't hurt that People magazine selected Hill as one of the "Sexiest Men Alive." And he's smart too. A magna cum laude graduate of Brown University and recipient of graduate degrees in both law and public administration from Harvard, Hill blends his intellect and charisma to focus on important issues.

And talk about luminaries! They shone so brightly, sunglasses were almost a necessity. You might want to put some on now as you check out this impressive list. As you read their mini-bios, ask yourself where we would be without their voices.

Ernest Green, one of the first black students to integrate at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, following the 1954 Supreme Court desegregation ruling. Green is the oldest of the "Little Rock Nine," a group of high school students who entered Central High School on the morning of September 25, 1957, with an escort of paratroopers.

Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate Rosa Alicia Clemente, community organizer, journalist and Hip-Hop activist. Born and raised in the South Bronx, and a graduate of the University of Albany and Cornell University, Clemente is running with Cynthia McKinney.

Denver's own Whitney Traylor, professor, attorney, author and single father of wonderful 10 year old daughter, Kameelah. A professor in the Management Department at Metropolitan State College, Whitney also has created his own successful civil rights law practice, Traylor Law Group, LLC. Notably, he recently took on corporate giant Sara Lee in a race discrimination case in federal court and won.

Brian E. Taylor, founder and CEO of The Penny Institute and PennyPAC. The Penny Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to teaching average Americans how to navigate the political process. PennyPAC is a non-partisan political action committee that supports candidates with fresh, innovative, and forward thinking approaches to education.

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based, Chinese Taiwanese American spoken word artist who has been featured at over 275 performances worldwide including three seasons of HBO's award-winning "Russell Simmons' Def Poetry."

Dr. Robert H. Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. He is a leading authority on environmental justice, and has written or edited more than a dozen books on the issue. More significantly, he has played a major role in organizing and mobilizing the environmental justice movement over the past two decades.

Oregon State Senator Margaret Carter, the first African American woman elected to the Oregon Legislative Assembly. An advocate for children and youth education, she also fights human rights violations and genocide, and she has received numerous awards including "Legislator of the Year" award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. Senator Carter is mother to 9 children, 26 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.

Dawn Bookhardt, founding partner in the law firm of Bookhardt & O'Toole, which specializes in complex municipal bond financing and transactions. Two of Bookhardt's noteworthy achievements include representation of Forest City in the development of the former Stapleton Airport site and representation of U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray and UBS PaineWeber as underwriters for the Denver Convention Center Hotel.

Osiris James is an out of the box entrepreneur and thinker with the ambition and will-power of a small army. Osiris is the CEO of Customer Advocate LLC, Founder of UrbanMentor Media, The Collective Prosperity Social Network, co-publisher of the Harlem Parent Magazine, producer of the Mentoring the Next Generation Campaign and the Lead or Die College Tour and Executive Board Member of the Harlem Renaissance Road race.

Marianne Camille Spraggins is President of BHP Institutional Strategies, a consulting company advising new and emerging companies, including private equity funds, on business development, marketing strategy and capital raising in the institutional investor marketplace.

Davey D is a Hip Hop historian, journalist, deejay and community activist, originally from the Bronx and now a native of California. A UC Berkeley graduate, Davey D pens a Hip Hop/Political column for the San Jose Mercury News and hosts a weekly Hip Hop/Political TV talk show on Oakland's Soul Beat television. Davey D sits on the advisory board for civic organizations like Black Youth Vote as well as Rock the Vote.

These artists, politicians, lawyers, teachers and World Citizens shared their wisdom and gave practical tips to the group on how to get involved in the political process. The solutions they proposed ranged from the fundamental day-to-day, such as using public transportation and recycling, to hard-core political involvement in justice movements. They encouraged citizens to go to top leaders to fight for reversals of harmful practices like environmental racism.

One of the highlights of the conversation came when the great Angela Bassett took the stage. Who can forget her, from How Stella Got Her Groove Back to her amazing performance in The Rosa Parks Story. She energized the group with her message of hope, and she urged everyone there to take a personal stand, to get out the vote, and to take an active role in self governing.

And then there's Danny Glover. When he joined the group in the tent, his mere presence brought an energy giving everyone there a strength of belief that they matter.

Yea, I'll admit I was star struck. But I was more struck by the strength of the convictions displayed at A New Voice: A New Conversation. Highest kudos to Chris Christmas, Creator and Executive Producer of this amazing event.