The Covenant With Black America is a extensive guide that was developed from an annual series of town hall meetings that were televised on C-SPAN. The meetings brought together some of America’s most prominent and influential black leaders to discuss issues that confronted African-Americans as well as the entire nation. The book was edited by nationally-known commentator Tavis Smiley, who was also the brainchild behind the annual gatherings. Smiley felt that something more tangible was needed to help set a common agenda for black America and have a democratic vision that would bring all black Americans together.
The Covenant With Black America opens with a Statement of Purpose, and is followed by ten chapters or covenants that cover different issues. These issues encompass topics of Healthcare, Public Education, Justice, Community Policing, Affordable Housing, Jobs and Economic Prosperity, Democracy, Environmental Justice, Digital Divide, and Rural Issues.
Each covenant begins with an introductory essay, written by an expert in that particular field, that sets the tone for the information and guidelines discussed in the covenant. The covenants provide statistical information on each topic and the information helps bring into context the particular issue as it relates to everyday black Americans. Each covenant provides information on what the community can do, what an individual can do, what things are working, what elected leaders can do, and a final word. Thus, the covenants are more than just mere presentation of facts and figures but a detailed guide to help motivate the reader into action.
The title is similar to that of the Contract With America that was developed by the Republican Party during the 1994 election year. However, instead of becoming a contract, it was suggested by Rev. Joseph Lowery, President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, that it be a covenant which implies a more spiritual dimension of the black struggle than does a contract.
The book closes with a Final Call to Action written by Dr. Cornel West, renowned scholar, author and professor of religion at Princeton University. West details the genesis of The Covenant with Black America and the process by which Tavis Smiley garnered support and input for the Covenant. There were several bold moves made by Smiley such as bringing together black leaders, black churches, the younger generation, and many other black organizations and people, who historically have been taught to be distrustful of each other. His boldest move was to hand off the publishing duties and all profits to one of the most prominent black publishers, Third World Press. By turning over publishing duties to Third World Press, which is led by writer and educator, Haki Madhubuti, it not only demonstrated an act of black self determination but it also followed the guidance of the covenant’s call to support black businesses.
The success of The Covenant With Black America propelled it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and the guide has become the centerpiece of discussion groups, mini-town hall sessions, and other forums across America. The Covenant is a guide that can also be used by all Americans who face many of the same issues and problems as black Americans. It is beneficial to those who face disenfranchisement or discrimination due to race, economic status, religion, or other social factors. It also provides all Americans an opportunity to understand the issues that confront black America and how they too, can participate in making America live up to its promise of justice and equality for all.