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Spike Lee photo

The areas discussed were education, the economy, gender, hip-hop and the state of Black America.

Pictured: Film Director Spike Lee

Photo by Justin D. Knight

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Symposium Features Star-Studded Panelists
By Michael Olajumoke, sophomore, School of Communications; intern, Office of University Communications
Black America symposium photo Photo by Justin D. Knight

On the eve of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, legendary film director Spike Lee, the Pepsi Corporation and Howard brought together a stellar cast of celebrities and professionals from various fields to examine the most important issues facing the country today. From D.C. public school chancellor Michelle Rhee to music heavyweights Sean Combs and Queen Latifah to noted scholar Cornell West, Ph.D., the list of experts was spectacular.

The all-day symposium titled, “Refresh the World,” was held at Cramton Auditorium on Jan 19. The goal was to examine various issues affecting the country and to offer new solutions, with the emphasis on refreshing the current thinking on those problems. The areas discussed were education, the economy, gender, hip-hop and the state of Black America.

Refresh Education
The first panel, moderated by author and professor Charles Ogletree, featured experts on education policy, including Rhee; Joe Klein, N.Y.C. chancellor, and Leslie Fenwick, Ph.D., dean of the University’s School of Education. The experts weighed in how to fix the current educational system with Klein arguing that, “There are things we can do without spending money.”

To solve the problems of poor educational achievement in low income and minority area schools, Klein suggested adopting new policies—national standards in education across the country; reworking the Title 1 Education Act, to reuse the funds for paid for performance measures; and recruiting the best teachers and placing them in poor performing districts to improve performance.

Refresh the Economy
Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, led the next discussion, which focused on the current state of the economy and the outlook for the future. The panelists included Andrew Brimmer, Ph.D., an economist and former member of the Federal Reserve Board; Michelle Singletary, a finance columnist for the Washington Post; Robert Wolf, Chairman of UBS Americas; and William Spriggs, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Department of Economics.

Wolf said the biggest concern is unemployment. “It is a very tough situation; 2009 is going to be tough with a very long tail,” he said.

When pressed by the moderator for some solutions to the current economic crisis Singletary said, “The key is to create jobs.” Brimmer argued for a cut in payroll taxes. But Spriggs had some cautionary words. “The recession does not end until all the people who lost their jobs during the current recession get their jobs back,” he said.

Refresh Gender
The next session, moderated by MSNBC analyst Michelle Bernard, focused on issues facing women in America today. Featured panelists included actress Rosario Dawson; Gail Collins, a columnist for the New York Times; and Hilary Rosen, a CNN contributor and Democratic strategist. While acknowledging that inequality between genders has become less of a problem, Dawson said, “Women still do not make the same amount of money as men. Tremendous inequality still exists in the dispersal of education.”

Refresh Hip-Hop
With the event drawing to a close, the excitement in the air was palpable as the next session started. Hosted by writer and filmmaker Barry Michael Cooper, the panel featured Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy); female hip-hop artists Latifah and MC Lyte; and Londell McMillan, attorney and publisher of Source magazine. Panelists discussed their early rap influences and the global impact of hip-hop.

“Hip-hop is a global lifestyle,” McMillan said. “It is an attitude and a fearlessness.” He also noted the contributions of hip-hop to the election of Barack Obama as president. Queen Latifah added, “Hip-hop is Black music and culture,” she added “It shows me the power we have.”

Refresh Black America-The Impact of Barack Obama
The final discussion of the day was hosted by CNN analyst Roland Martin and featured an array of notable African-American personalities, including West, Reverend Al Sharpton; and political analyst Donna Brazile. The discussion focused on many topics relating to African-American life, and how the community can change and benefit from the historic election of Obama as our nation’s president.

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