There was standing room only in a Prince George’s Community College auditorium Wednesday night as community members clamored to join a town hall forum on race and the economic recession.
The discussion was an opportunity for the community and panelists to discuss the findings of a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation-Harvard University poll on the recession’s impact on area African American families.
“Stand up if you have had your home foreclosed or know someone who lost their home,” said Michelle Singletary, a Washington Post financial columnist and the forum’s moderator. “Stand up if you are struggling to find affordable housing” or are unemployed, burdened by student debt or credit-card debt, she said.
Eventually, nearly everyone in the room was standing. “If you’re not standing,” Singletary said, “you either have money or you’re lying.”
The poll showed that African Americans have been more adversely affected by the recession than whites or Hispanics, and also more optimistic about the future than either group.
“We’re not saying that black people are not stressed,” said political commentator Jeff Johnson. “Black people were stressed before this recession, before white folks were stressed.”
He was joined by panelists Julianne Malveaux, an economist and educator; Jared Bernstein, chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Biden; Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Michael A. Fletcher, an economics reporter at The Post; political commentator Sophia Nelson; and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The panelists and audience members focused on what could be done to improve the economic outlook. But the solutions they proposed varied widely: Create more jobs. Reform education. Engage young voters. Provide affordable housing.
Sharpton challenged the crowd to form a resistance movement akin to the tea party. “We need to make ourselves a factor in the social landscape again,” he said.