When this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference kicks off Wednesday, there will be the usual convergence of politicos, professionals, subject-matter experts, students, policy wonks and the like who will descend upon Washington, D.C., for a steady slate of panels, discussions, town halls, receptions and award ceremonies, steady with their annual Fab Empire “Insider’s Guide to Congressional Black Caucus Week” in hand.
They’re there to learn. They’re there to talk policy. They’re there to network. But just as big as the networking and policy wonking is the partying. So much partying.
D.C. has always been a fun city to throw a shindig, and the ALC has always been a highly anticipated event, but under the Barack Obama administration, there was an extra layer of cool added to the typical shenanigans. Traditional D.C. affairs became must-see events that you hustled to get into. Even ol’ “nerd prom,” the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, became a place where Kardashians and other celebrities played. This was no different for the ALC, where you were as likely to see California Rep. Maxine Waters as you were the cast of Starz’s hit show Power.
For eight years, that cool, fostered by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, who were mainstays at the annual conference and its events, was evident in everything, but to quote 112, “It’s over now.”
President Donald Trump has attempted to wreak havoc on Obama’s legacy and America in general. The world’s pettiest world leader has taken aim at targets big and small, casting a cloud over, well, pretty much everything he thinks about. Trump is a wet towel placed upon good and joyous feelings.
But we are a joyous people. While it’s probably right to expect that Trump and his assailant policies will be a regular and common occurrence during the panels, talks and discussions all up and through the ALC, will it have an impact on the social scene and atmosphere? I asked a few people engaged in the scene for their impressions as individuals who are active attendants, hosts and curators of experiences. I was particularly curious to know if the anticipation for events and the like had dulled in any way.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley, author of the book Don’t Waste Your Pretty, who is moderating a panel during ALC week titled “Owning It: Being a Media Mogul,” says: “I haven’t seen a decrease in the number of invites to social events, or corporate sponsors hosting events. Amongst my circle, anticipation for CBC ALC is as high as ever. It’s a ‘homecoming’ of sorts for the political set.”
In fact, while a spokesperson for the Fab Empire, who curates the Insider’s Guide, told us that they’ve heard grumblings that people weren’t as excited to come to Washington since the Obamas left the White House, they explained that “the reality is, we had to add four more pages to the guide to accommodate all of the receptions and brunches and parties this year. Although it seems counterintuitive, there’s actually more events happening this year, and I think it speaks to people’s desire to do something—whether that’s network, organize, engage, party or build.”
Steve Parker of Usual Suspectz, a promotional group hosting a CBC kickoff event (among others) Tuesday night in conjunction with the Congressional Black Associates at The Park at 14th, feels that more young influencers are taking action planning this year’s events, which is driving anticipation: “I feel like the buzz for this year has been up more than the last few years. The amount of people coming into town earlier in the week has been a big change.”
Both D’Oyley and the Fab Empire feel like people may feel more of a sense of urgency in celebration this year because of Trump’s presidency. From the Fab Empire: “One might argue that it’s even more imperative to [network and use the conference as an opportunity to party] this year, since it’s apparent that we need to organize. There’s no better place to do that than the ALC.”
D’Oyley concurs: “If, under the Obama administration, attendees were social in celebration, under the Trump administration people will continue to be social because they NEED an outlet for their daily frustrations with the political scene.”
For many of us in D.C., Obama’s departure from the White House changed the city and many of the black professional parts of it; it just felt “different.” While the party won’t stop, the ALC—including the social scene—may also feel a bit different.
From the perspective of the Fab Empire:
The Obamas not only had an effect on young black professionals in Washington, D.C., but the nation’s capital as a whole. They really ensured that the White House became the “people’s house” and you saw that in action. It seemed that more black Washingtonians visited the White House than during Bush’s presidencies and there was more access to the highest people in power. It also helped that young black professionals got more of an opportunity to work in government during his tenure as president. All of that has a trickle-down effect when it comes to the ALC. Those same people walking the White House hallways or marching on Capitol Hill are also attending the ALC and its parties and receptions. The Obamas gave us more than hope—they gave us access.
There was definitely a different feel for the CBC ALC years under President Obama, especially as President Obama or first lady Michelle Obama often delivered the keynote address at the Annual Phoenix Awards Gala. Knowing that the president and the first lady would be present as an official part of the CBC ALC positively affected the mood. Hearing the president or first lady speak in person was definitely a HUGE draw to attend the awards and a reason to celebrate. Under the Obama administration, the social side of CBC ALC definitely attracted more corporations who hosted big events. That’s continued this year.
So while the ALC might feel a little different this year, the social scene itself seems primed to be more vibrant and exciting than in past years, possibly out of necessity as we combat the negativity emanating from the current inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. For the community, events like the ALC are welcome in times of prosperity but also remind us how much work we need to do, and people attending the conference are here for just that purpose. And when the day’s talks are over ... it looks like we’ll all be partying together in support of unity, no matter who is in office.