I remember being a little restless during the Congressional Black Caucus dinner (the sound system was working poorly, and I couldn't make out what the speakers were saying). I remember being grateful that the room was dark, because my eyes were a little tired. I remember thinking what a shame it was that this magnificent evening should be spoiled by something as simple as a sound system.
Then all at once the whines and buzzes and echoes were gone; the sound was studio perfect, and the attention of the audience was suddenly fixed on the speaker. I couldn't quite make out his face in the gloom, but the words were crystal clear.
"My fellow black Americans," he was saying in a voice that was almost conversational, "we have spent the past several days articulating the problems, defining the problems, placing blame for the problems and, one might even say, celebrating the problems that confront us.
"I do not doubt the truth of anything we have heard this week. Some of the problems we face are the problems of Americans generally, but they strike us with disproportionate force because we are disproportionately poor and powerless. Some of our problems stem, with indisputable clarity, from racism. And some of our problems, while by no means new, are newly exacerbated by the program and policy choices of the current administration.
"All these things are true. But, with your indulgence tonight, I'd like to shift the focus from the question o fhow the problems cane to be to the more vexatious, controversial, and vastly more important question of how the problems are going to be solved.
"I don't propose any final answers. The problems are too varied and complex for that. But I do propose a different direction, a different model of action. The old model--one that served us well for a long time--was to force our problems on the attention of the benevolent powerful and ask them to provide the solutions.
"It worked, when what we needed were legislative solutions. Now we need solutions of another kind, and we must create a new model. For instance, the main reason the gap between black-and-white-family income is widening again, after a long period of catch-up, is that a growing percentage of ;our families is headed by single females. Family breakup is part of that, but not all. Fifty-five percent of our babies are born out of wedlock, many of them to adolescent mothers. Legislation can't fix that. We'll have to do it ourselves.
"Even with the employment situation, much worse for us than for America at large, we can do some things for ourselves.
"It cost me $150 to come to this dinner, plus $200 in air fare, and I'm sure my hotel bill will come to a minimum of $300. All told, this weekend will probably cost me close to $1,000, nearly all that money going to white corporations. I propose to contribute an equal amount to a revolving fund upon which black entrepreneurs can draw to finance their worthy ventures and to make jobs for our people.
"Others of you in this audience spent similar sums to be here. You bought frocks and furs, you took planes, you bought food and lodging. You spent, among you, a few million dollars on this weekend alone. Yet think how little of that expenditure does anything to address the problems we've spent this week discussing.
"I'm proposing that whatever you spent this weekend you should give an equal amount to the revolving fund we are establishing here tonight. If you don't have the money with you, you can leave your pledge to send it in during the next 12 months.
"When black people across America see what you are doing here tonight, they will follow suit. Those too poor even to dream of attending a Black Caucus weekend will be inspired to send in $5 or $20 or whatever they can afford. And the result will be a turning point in our quest for black pride, black progress and black power. Let us begin, right here, right now."
First a trickle, and then waves of cheering black folk made their way to the podium, checkbooks in hand.
And then I woke up.