What is the Covenant with Black America?
The Covenant with Black America is a national plan of action to address the primary concerns of African Americans today—from health to housing, from crime to criminal justice, from education to economic parity.
Why A Covenant and Why Now?
As we witnessed in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, Americans are deeply divided between race, class, gender, political ideology and moral values. A divide so extreme, that in order to bridge it, we must speak openly, freely, without judgment and work together. It is imperative that we take this opportunity to consider the issues of particular interest to African Americans and to establish a national plan of action to address them. No longer can we sit back and expect one political party, one segment of the population or one religious denomination to speak for us or to act on our behalf. It is our responsibility as an entire community to no longer be left behind politically, socially, or economically and to bridge the economic and social divides ourselves, by encouraging a conversation and a commitment that will inevitably benefit all Americans.
State of the Black Union: Defining the African American Agenda Part I & II
For the last ten years, the country's visionaries, educators, public policy makers, religious leaders, opinion makers, and community organizers have come together to weigh in on the most challenging issues facing Black America. This symposium—The State of the Black Union—has always encouraged dialogue and the exchange of ideas about issues and factors that gauge the progress of America's promise for African Americans; however, last year's gathering marked a turning point.
On the heels of the 2004 presidential election, a sour economy, a rising death toll in Iraq, a growing prison population, and deepening disparities in healthcare and public education, collectively "we the people" decided that it was time to shift the conversation from talking about our "pain" to talking about our "plan". It is a plan that moves our critique of America to a construction of America—a country that is as good as its promise. At the close of the 2005 State of the Black Union, the public was invited to share what they wanted from this plan. African Americans across the country let us know what their concerns were once we put out the call for them to do so at our website. In short, take control of their own destiny. We believe that The Covenant has the power to do this and more.
Less than one year later, that plan, roadmap, blueprint was published as the Covenant with Black America. On the recommendation of Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, co-founder with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we decided to call this document a "covenant" and not a "contract" because it speaks to the spiritual dimension of the Black struggle for progress in America.
We are especially pleased with the thought-leaders and opinion-makers who have contributed introductory essays to each of the 10 covenant chapters in the book. Each is nationally recognized for contributions in their various fields of interest and each donated his/her time and expertise to make this project possible.
It was important for us to maintain the integrity of this project by guaranteeing that from conception to birth, this project would be imbued with the spirit and soul of Black people. We made the plea over the nationally-syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show and Black folk everywhere responded. The name of each donor is listed in the text of the book. It's a wonderful thing to peruse the list and to see the names of individual Black family members who supported this effort. It is even more empowering to know that these citizens are serious about their future and that of our country.
The rise of the Covenant with Black America to #1 on the New York Times best-seller list proved that there was tremendous interest in a plan of action that addressed the concerns of Black Americans. Tavis Smiley, the visionary responsible for creating and building the momentum around the book, embarked on a five-month, 20-city national tour, holding sessions in churches in cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Memphis, New York, Baltimore, and Cleveland.
To build on the excitement and discussion around the book, Tavis Smiley invited people around the country to host Covenant Celebrations as part of the Covenant Conversation and Celebration Weekend. The first 1,000 party hosts who sent Smiley an invitation to their celebration received a special covenant gift pack. One lucky party hosted Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West as their guests, where they discussed issues in The Covenant.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that the nettlesome task of Black Americans is to bear the burden of redeeming the soul of America. Without question, Black folk have always been the conscience of the country. It is our hope that we can yet again help our beloved nation live up to the promise of her ideals. The political paradigm has shifted; it's time to build a new construct, and the Covenant with Black America is the tool for the task.
The Back Story of The Covenant Cover Photo
The background image on the cover of The Covenant book is an original photograph by world renowned photographer Chester Higgins, Jr. The photograph features eight year old Sojourner from New York.
In the face of this young girl, the cover of The Covenant represents our family histories. The image of the child's face is composed of over three hundred smaller images of our ancestors submitted by African Americans across the country.
The Covenant is about the future. About the hope of Black youth yet unborn. About our past and the courage of our ancestors. About the present—right here and right now. The Covenant will reflect our independence, our interdependence and our interconnectedness.