An assistant was touching up the makeup on host Julian Bond and a technician was counting down the minutes until air time. The videotaping of the "town meeting" segment of the Congressional Black Caucus legislative weekend by "America's Black Forum" was already 45 minutes late, and the 10 congressmen on the panel looked like school kids waiting for the fussy class photographer.

Finally, after a delay, two false starts and some microphone adjustment, each was asked to sum up his legislative priorities.

"We are certainly displeased that the funding for African states is down," said Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.). "Forty-five percent of the citizens of Mississippi don't have a high school diploma," said Rep. Mike Espy (D-Miss.). "The number one issue facing us today, as black people, is jobs," said Rep. Charles A. Hayes (D-Ill.). "Eight out of 10 kids born with AIDS are black or Hispanic. So it is really a question of survival," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Just as the concerns of the Black Caucus touch every aspect of life in America, particularly the status of black Americans, the concerns of the group's annual weekend range across the spectrum and across the map.

Now in its 17th year, the weekend is a four-day event with 20,000 participants, 65 workshops, a prayer breakfast that attracts 2,000 people, an awards banquet that attracts 3,000 people, two fashion shows, a sprinkling of press conferences and dozens of non-caucus-sponsored political meetings and receptions that become news in themselves.

For several years now, the weekend has been the largest annual gathering of black leaders in the country. While its reach is primarily political -- tomorrow's presidential forum is expected to attract Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Jesse L. Jackson and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) -- the discussions also attract names from the cultural world, such as television producer Henry Hampton ("Eyes on the Prize"), movie director Michael Schultz ("Disorderlies") and Phyllis Tucker Vinson, vice president of NBC children's programming ("The Smurfs").

To anchor such a sprawl of items, and also to sound the alarm on an issue the caucus has decided needs leadership, the theme of "Educating the Black Child: Our Past and Our Future," was selected this year.

The nation, said Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), the dean of the caucus and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, "must regain our preeminence in education. We are concerned with injustice toward one group, but {black children} serve as a proxy for Hispanic children, for Native American children, for Appalachian children." In May, Hawkins' School Improvement Act was passed by the House 401 to 1, and Wednesday he released a blueprint for action on education issues that he called an "Education Bill of Rights." Sharing the podium, Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) said he hoped that by the end of the weekend, "you will get religion about education."

In the audience, Johnetta Cole, the new president of Spelman College in Atlanta, was listening closely. "We need the empowerment of our entire people," she said, stressing the need to examine all levels of education. Doll Gordon, a nurse in Washington who is a social activist, was also taking notes and later announced that the local chapter of the Black Child Development Institute had "adopted" a public school. "We have taken the first-grade class and will follow them through. It is very important that we save ... education and jobs," said Gordon.

Today's meetings include forums on AIDS, the corporate world, the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork and racism in sports management; and a three-hour meeting, on harassment of black elected officials, is expected to include Rep. Harold E. Ford (D-Tenn.), former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and former Maryland state senator Clarence Mitchell III. Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.) will announce today the creation of the Institute on Science, Space and Technology, based at Howard University, to promote minority competence and participation in the sciences.

In the years it has become a fixture on convention calendars, the Black Caucus weekend has also served as a hook for many auxiliary events. Last night there was a dinner dance for the caucus members at the Four Seasons Hotel. Today the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, a group of 25 staffers with policy-making responsibilities, will honor Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio) at a reception.

Part of the magnetism of the caucus weekend is the chance to catch up with old friends, take the temperature of any number of issues and watch the rising stars. In a session yesterday called "Political Empowerment -- New Faces in the '90s," Lisa Williamson, who works for the Commission for Racial Justice in New York, was delivering a fiery address.

"There are young black people out there who are brilliant," she said, "but can't identify a black professional" to be a mentor. Black professionals, she said, "are too busy holding their few crumbs" to let younger people into their fields.

Another aspect of the divisions within the black community, she said, is the cultural gap between old people and young people. "I know it is hard to explain to the black middle class about rappers," she said. "You ask, 'What are they saying? Why do they have to talk so loud? Why do they wear their hats like that?' " But the alienated youths, she said, are really "a reflection of the failures of the black middle class" to communicate its ideals. The room was as crowded as a church on Sunday morning and, as in a church service, the voices were shouting agreement.

"I'm going to close," Williamson started.

"Go ahead, finish," came one reply.

"No one ever promised us," she said, "that the struggle would be easy."

As the next speaker, Atlanta City Council member Bill Campbell, walked to the microphone, he smiled. "Let the church say amen," he said.

As the day wound down, music became the vehicle for more political discussions and a little corporate gratitude.

In the ballroom of the Washington Hilton, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) organized a panel on "Jazz: A Family Tradition." The panel followed legislative action Wednesday, when Congress passed a resolution praising jazz as an "American national treasure."

"This music, now that it has been recognized by the public, should be included in every curriculum in the United States," said band leader Percy Heath.

Prompted by CBS Records Vice President George Butler, the musicians were asked how they learned the music. Said Thelonious Monk Jr.: "I grew up with a piano at the foot of the bed."

As the jazz panel ended with a concert, Grover Washington Jr. was getting ready to entertain 500 political, artistic and corporate leaders at a lavish dinner dance sponsored by CBS Records Group, the Coca-Cola Co. and the Adolph Coors Co. Dozens of people were trying to crash the event.

"We think the caucus represents the best of our community," said Bruce Llewellyn, a Coca-Cola vice president. "Coke does a lot of business in the black community and Coke wants to be responsible to its consumers."

Among those sitting down for the private concert were Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Gus Savage (D-Ill.), D.C. Council member Frank Smith, former ambassador Donald McHenry, civil rights leader Dorothy Height and actor Danny Glover.