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Black leaders speak out

The African-American Leadership Conference this weekend was a first among many firsts at Troy State University.

The university is known for its outstanding leadership in bringing new and innovative ideas to the campus.

Lamar Higgins, a member of the board of trustees of the Troy State University System, told the gathering of leaders at the opening session of the conference Friday night that he suggested such a conference to Dr. Shirley Woodie without really expecting to hear any more about it.

However, Woodie followed up the idea enthusiastically and, as result, about 50 men and women in different leadership roles benefited from a weekend of study sessions and the wisdom and experience of the keynote speakers.

Dr. Michael Thurman, pastor of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church of Montgomery was the keynote speaker for the opening session at Hawkins-Adams-Long Hall of Honor.

Thurman told the gathering that this is a new time for the sons and daughters of slaves who grew up in a hostile environment but have gone on to do great things.

He said African-American leadership is a subtle, but growing, phenomenon.

"Black America is emerging," Thurman said, adding that the beginning of the upward movement of the African-American community can be attributed, early on, to the prosperity of post-World War II and greater opportunities in education.

However, Thurman said there are two divisions among the African-American community: those who are prosperous and part of the mainstream and those who are trapped in a culture of self-destruction and helplessness.

"Many African Americans live in poverty despite a greater array of opportunities than ever before," Thurman said.

He said there is a difference of $14,000 between the median income of white Americans and black Americans.

"A half million black Americans have a total income of $2500 a year," Thurman said

"A million black households make between $5,000 and $7,500 a year. On the other hand, a half million blacks have an annual income of $40,000 to $45,000 and a million black households have an income of $100,000. Those of us here tonight look good and are doing good. We’ve done well."

However, Thurman said 10 million African-Americans do not have quality heath care or quality educations, don’t earn decent wages and don’t have a decent place to live.

"Many African-Americans work and still can’t make ends meet," he said. "Bad choices they have made have sealed their lot."

A large percentage of African Americans don’t own a home.

"That must change," Thurman said. "Home ownership is the gateway to wealth. Capitalism is based on ownership. More African Americans must own homes and businesses. That must happen."

Thurman also said more African Americans must become leaders.

"In our country there are now 10,000 black elected officials," Thurman said. "In Alabama we have 800. In Louisiana, 666. In Georgia, 597. That’s black power!"

Thurman said there are many issues facing African Americans, including political diversion, education discrimination and the challenges to understand emerging trends and reduce crime.

"We must build an effective coalition, but we can’t have it overnight," Thurman said.

The conference closed on Saturday with a luncheon held in the John B. Long Hall of Honor.

The keynote speaker for the luncheon was Col. Wilson

Edward Barnes, who is the Marshal of the Florida Supreme Court. "I believe at this juncture in our nation, African-American leadership is in great need in this country," he told those in attendance. "We must be the catalysts for the realizations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for our ancestors who have been toiling in this nation to help build it."

Col. Barnes talked about the struggles he faced in Florida concerning racial profiling in the court system. He also pointed to the fact that young African-American males are the largest group put out of schools over any other group.

"We all have to work together to do something about these things," Barnes said. "Studies should be conducted to determine if there is a problem and we must approach those in power and talk to them."

Honored at the luncheon were several African-American leaders who are considered as extraordinary in Pike County. Johnnie Mae Warren, the first African-American woman to serve on the Troy City Council was the first to be recognized. Also recognized were Robert Jones, Bobby Jean Crosswell and Gwendolyn C. Mosley.