The origins of the BRC can be found in two sets of discussions that took place in 1995. In Manchester, Britain, at a commemoration of the anniversary of the 5th Pan African Congress, several people including Barbara Ransby, Manning Marable and Abdul Alkalimat began discussing the need for some level of organization of the Black Left. Separately, in the aftermath of the Million Man March Bill put in a call to Marable (who was at the time a good friend, and over time became like a brother to him) and expressed his dismay that the Nation of Islam had proven to be such a successful and dominant force. He suggested to Marable that we needed to hold a “summit”of the Black Left in order to move discussions regarding the actual situation and what needed to be done. [Note: “Summit” is emphasized here because the original objective was notthe creation of a new organization; that would emerge through the process of building for the summit.] Marable agreed and we began discussing the building of a core for such a project. In the course of that discussion he mentioned the Manchester meeting and as a result the importance of including Ransby and Alkalimat. Mullings, an independent leftist and scholar, was a close collaborator of Marable’s and they had recently married. Thus, the original five came together and through myriad of conference calls, exchanges of faxes and later email this original five gelled into a core which ultimately convened a meeting at the end of February 1997 in Chicago of what came to be known as the “continuations committee,” i.e., a flexible body of individuals from around the country who were committed to building the summit. It was at that first meeting of the National Continuations Committee that it was suggested that while we should build for a major conference of the Black Left, we should ultimately aim to create an organization. At that moment the “Black Radical Congress” was christened, so to speak, as the name of this project. The rationale for the name was itself quite interesting:
- “Black”: As opposed to African American, we wanted to make sure that people of African origin were all welcomed and this not be seen as strictly a project of those who lineage was tied to North America. We also felt that “Black” was a political coloring and that who was “black” would be a matter of self-identification. As we would half-jokingly say, “…we are not going to do DNA tests to ascertain whether someone is actually African…” There is a long history of this approach in the Black Left which included Asians, Native Americans and Latinos being openly accepted into Black formations.
- “Radical”: Originally we had spoken of a “Black Left” formation but some objected that many younger activists would not necessarily be clear as to what “Left” meant and that we should have a name that would attract and speak to those who were anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists. It was also important that the BRC represent various tendencies within the Black Left and, as such, not be monopolized by one group or tendency. This became a balancing act which we shall discuss below.
- “Congress”: This term spoke to the nature of the founding gathering plus the sort of formation that we wanted to project. It was raised that what we wanted to do was to build something that resembled, in important respects, the Congress movement from South Africa (such as the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania). “Congress” spoke to this formation as being a united front of the Black Left rather than a formation driven by one ideological orientation. “Congress” also held a special place in African American history with several organizations containing that word in their name.
We also had a critical task: we needed a unity statement, i.e., a document that explained who was in the room in starting the BRC process and why them (as opposed to some others). Creating this document was not as difficult as many would have expected but it was controversial. The document included explicit language not only against racism and sexism, but also against homophobia. The BRC, in other words, from its beginning, welcomed all and we would not tolerate prejudices and aggression against segments of the movement. This declaration meant that there were a number of individuals within the Black Left—broadly defined—who while might otherwise seem logical to be associated with the BRC, would not fit in. Some of them later went on to resent their exclusion from the founding efforts.
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