(Chicago, IL – May 24, 2006) In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and amid growing controversy over immigration issues, black scholars and community leaders are gathering in Chicago to discuss the legacy of Booker T. Washington, who advocated for education, entrepreneurship, and economic self-reliance.
The event is a celebration of Booker T. Washington's 150th birthday and includes a series of dinner events beginning on Sunday, June 4 and two days of public panel discussions beginning Monday, June 5. The symposium is the only event of its kind in the nation.
"It's time for a change in the black community," said Lee Walker, president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, the principal sponsor of the symposium. "For too long we've been focused on assigning blame while our community decays from the inside out." Walker believes, as Washington did, that African Americans must take their future into their own hands by embracing a new set of values.
"Until we have a vibrant economic culture in the inner cities, there will be no change," Walker continued, "and a vibrant economic culture starts with education, self-reliance, and personal responsibility."
One of the symposium participants, Professor Carol Swain of Vanderbilt University, noted, "we would have fewer problems in black communities if more people knew about and internalized the ideals and values of Booker T. Washington." If he were here today, Swain said, he would "urge people to cast down their bucket where they are [and] black leaders to take responsible positions on immigration reform and extension of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, instead of the self-serving positions most embrace."
On May 20, in a commentary published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Bauerlein of Emory University, another scholar participating in the symposium, quoted Washington as saying, "The great human law that in the end recognizes and rewards merit is everlasting and universal." Bauerlein himself observed, "the United States is closer to abiding by that law than ever before ... [and] we should pass along that faith to those who most need it."
Other notable participants in the symposium are: Dr. Peter Ascoli, grandson of Julius Rosenwald, who was a key financial supporter of Washington's work; Margaret Washington Clifford, the oldest living direct descendent of Booker T. Washington; Glenn C. Loury of Brown University; Steve Mariotti, founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship; and William (Bill) Winston, graduate of Tuskegee Institute and pastor of Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park.