"The first lesson we have got to teach our children if we are to educate them is to listen," Marian Wright Edelman began. "I have something important to say to you tonight, and I want you to hear me."

With these words, the keynote speaker acquired what had eluded Mayor Marion Barry, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.) and other speakers at Saturday's Congressional Black Caucus 17th annual legislative weekend banquet: the attentive silence of her 3,000 listeners at the $300-a-plate, black-tie dinner.

The founder of the Children's Defense Fund then asked her listeners to swallow, with their steaks, an unflinchingly serious speech about the responsibilities of the black middle class in advancing the weekend's major theme -- the education of the black child.

Noting the need to "educate black children in mind, in body and in spirit," Edelman made an emotional plea for her well-heeled audience to commit itself to the "service of those left behind," and not to blame the grim statistics of black family life on racism and urbanization alone.

"As many nuggets of truth as there are in all these views," she said, "unless the black middle class begins to extend more sustained leadership to black children and families ... then all of our Mercedeses and Halston frocks will not hide our failure as a generation of black 'haves' that did not protect the future during our watch."

She was speaking, as she noted afterward, to "the forum where you have all the leaders of the black middle class." And her speech underlined the traditional double nature of the weekend.

It is, on the one hand, a celebration of black achievement, as represented by the presence of men and women as diversely famous as Harry Belafonte and Rosa Parks, Dick Gregory and Coretta Scott King. As the Rev. Gardner Taylor of Brooklyn's Concord Baptist Church of Christ told the 23 black members of Congress at a Saturday morning prayer breakfast, "You cannot know how much hope is invested in you, in every nook and cranny of America, among black people yearning to breathe free." On the other hand, leaders see it as an opportunity to rally future support against the problems that confront black America.

Nowhere was the aspect of celebration, the awareness of achievements consolidated, more apparent than in the presence of Jesse L. Jackson, who galvanized his listeners wherever he went. And nowhere was concern for the future more apparent than in the denunciations of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.

Jackson, in person, and Bork, in spirit, dominated even the Saturday prayer breakfast. Jackson, who delivered a mini-sermon, was given a distinctly secular introduction as "the next president of the United States." Bork was described in Taylor's sermon as the prime example "of those who are now determined to block our progress.

"We are now having, on Capitol Hill, the hearings for two or three Borks. Number one, there is the Bork who was. Number two, there is the Bork he says he is. And number three, there is the Bork nobody knows."

"I have found the most extraordinary interest, and the most detailed knowledge about Bork, on the part of people here," Eleanor Holmes Norton remarked at a National Urban Coalition brunch yesterday. "Of course, this meeting raises the political consciousness on the part of a community that already has a very high political consciousness."

Chaka Fattah entered politics in 1976 as a teen-ager, working the polls in West Philadelphia for an aspiring (and losing) black congressional candidate named Bill Gray.

William H. Gray III got elected the next time out and is now chairman of the House Budget Committee. Chaka Fattah ultimately ran for the state legislature and is now serving his third term for Pennsylvania's 192nd District -- one of the increasingly deep bench of black politicians around the country that produced four black freshman members of Congress in 1986.

Fattah explained this weekend that he sees the four-day round of seminars, speeches, meetings and parties as "a real opportunity for black America to come together and produce a shared consensus around major issues. Especially as we approach the presidential election, it's important that we come together," he said. "This obviously is 60 percent of what's going to be taking place here."

But the only part of it that took place in public view was Saturday's four-way Democratic Candidates Forum, at which Reps. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Patricia Schroeder (Colo.) and Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis responded good-naturedly to finding themselves in the midst of a Jackson rally. Responding to questions from members of the Black Caucus, the four spent a little more than two hours outbidding each other in their support for higher spending on education and in their denunciations of Bork.

As efficient Jackson supporters blanketed the event, producing red, white and blue Jackson stickers on a majority of lapels and promoting attendance at a $75-a-head Jackson fundraiser that night, representatives of the absent Sen. Paul Simon (Ill.) tiptoed amid the throng, timidly offering leaflets to listeners. (Simon, who was kept away by a previous commitment in South Dakota, did arrive in time to attend the banquet.)

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Gray has a lot of Friends, a committee of whom -- including MCA Inc., Stroh Brewery Co., RJR Nabisco and the American Health Care Association -- threw a dinner dance in his honor Friday night at the Park Hyatt. Gray is, after Jackson, the biggest political star of black America, and "the Gray party" is, by consensus, becoming one of the most popular events of these weekends.

The party was followed by the annual midnight fashion show hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses. It was, again, a packed event in the Washington Hilton's cavernous ballroom, where a dressy crowd consumed dessert and champagne.

Throughout the weekend, visitors wandered around the exhibition floor, where corporate sponsors, foundations, unions, federal agencies and others displayed their wares, promoted minority employment and raffled off goods. (At the General Dynamics booth, a representative said there was "probably" nothing odd about one of the nation's largest defense contractors raffling off a Sony Walkman during a weekend when much of the talk was of the need to stanch the flow of jobs to plants overseas.)

At the RJR Nabisco booth, visitors were lining up to have a corporate photographer snap their picture at the side of actor Danny Glover. "This has made my weekend," said Anita Irick, who works in public affairs at the Small Business Administration.

The photos, snapped under the "R.J. Reynolds -- Tobacco U.S.A." sign, only briefly interrupted the distribution of free cigarettes. Down the way, representatives of Philip Morris were busily dispensing their own brands as quickly as delegates could pocket them. And at the fashion show, cosponsored by Philip Morris, free samples of Virginia Slims Menthols were distributed in bags of favors at each place setting. "To borrow a phrase from our Virginia Slims brand," Philip Morris Vice President Stanley S. Scott said in introducing the fashion show, "You've come a long way."

Edelman, who alluded in her speech to the need to address alcohol and tobacco abuse in the black community, said of the tobacco firms' sponsorship, "It's a paradox that bothers me. There are no pure things, but it concerns me."

Freshman Rep. Floyd Flake (D-N.Y.) defended the companies' involvement in the weekend's events. "One of the things people must realize is that {RJR} and Stan Scott have been so overwhelmingly supportive over the years of black concerns. I think the issue is not whether they're providing favors, but a long relationship with {black} causes."

But Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said the caucus must reevaluate the sponsorship of both tobacco and alcohol companies, "not only in caucus activities, but in terms of advertising activities in black communities.

"They're always there on the spot with scholarships ... {But} with all appreciation for their corporate charity, where are they in terms of the health statistics showing black mortality is leaping off the statistical pages in terms of alcohol and cigarette-related diseases?" According to the Centers for Disease Control, black men between the ages of 25 and 34 represent the highest rate of smokers -- 46.9 percent -- of any group in the country. Overall, 26.5 percent of adults smoke.

"There's no way we can compartmentalize our lives conveniently, to say, 'thanks so much for your promotion,' and ignore statistics. Somewhere in our lives, and in our body politic, we have to confront their commercial and advertising practices," said Conyers.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who came to Congress the year the Congressional Black Caucus hosted its first weekend, marveled at how far the event had come. "This was one of the most exciting, substantive weekends we've ever had," he said. "It's fantastic we don't have to make emotional appeals anymore. We can now make them on a substantive basis," a gain he said has been "a gradual change over the years."

Following three days of events -- however substantive -- in hotel basements, the small brunch throng on the lawn of the Thomas Law House yesterday looked relieved to greet the midday sun. They ate the National Urban Coalition's ham and eggs and discussed Edelman's speech of the night before.

"I think she was saying things that people believe and don't often say," Virginia Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder summarized, "something people need to say. We shouldn't have to have these catalysts to stir us.

"This is what we must teach our children," he added: "That life is hard, it may get harder, but it will be hardest if you don't help yourselves.