On Sept. 23, the Urban Issues Forum of Greater Los Angeles will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its forum, and given this difficult economic time, it is quite an achievement that the event has made it to, and surpassed, the 10-year milestone.

Founded in October of 1999 by Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D. and former Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Farrell, the Urban Issues Forum, according to their website, “is a lively exchange (debate/counter-debate).” Its mission is to “provide the community at large and community news sources with first-hand insights to their constituencies on issues of national and local concern.”
Speaking to Our Weekly about the Forum, co-founder Samad reflected on its past, and talked about plans for the 10-year celebration.

“The Urban Issues Forum,” says Samad, “has proven to be a significant driver in the public discourse in our community. It’s a one-of-kind forum nationwide inasmuch as in urban cities, we invite our community–at no expense to them–to come out and hear significant newsmakers. And some of the nation’s top newsmakers speak at our forums. So we think it’s an accomplishment that we were able to reach the 10-year benchmark.”

The journey has not been without struggles. Samad says that their challenges are the same as all non-profits, such as sustainability and trying “to continue the program in a tough economy.” The biggest problem the Forum faces is that they have no full-time staff. On the positive side, the Forum has proven to be a viable product and people support it, as is evidenced by its longevity.

When asked about goals for the Forum, Samad says:, “The Forum is still an open mic for the community to begin to talk to issues that affect them outside of the mainstream media. Part of how the Issues Forum got (started) is traditionally we had to go through the gatekeepers like town halls, like L.A. Times speakers’ forums and those kinds of things, or elected officials who chose to bring folk in our community on their terms. We had very little access to them, and we had very little interaction with them in terms of our ability to interface with newsmakers. So the Urban Issues Forum will continue to be the place where we invite (leaders and others) to speak to everyday people,” says Samad, who for the last 20 years has operated a strategic planning/urban affairs firm specializing in the assessment and management of public policy, economic development, urban, social and race issues.

There have, of course, been many highlights. The co-founder recalled several, each of which demonstrates the national and international influence of the Forum. The first person he brought up was South African parliament member and influential leader in the anti-apartheid movement Winnie Mandela, who spoke at the Forum in 2000.

She appeared, says Samad, “as part of the Racial Reconciliation Mission to find out how African-Americans in the United States managed to heal the wounds of segregation and oppression with their former oppressors.” He laughed as he shared “one of the comments I remember she said was ‘I don’t see how y’all did it.’”

Samad, who is also a professor of political science and African American Studies at East Los Angeles College, proudly notes that the Urban Issues Forum was “the first to publicly host” then-Senator Barack Obama in October 2006, prior to the announcement of his presidential candidacy the following February. He admitted, “it was difficult to get support for (this particular) forum, because many people had already committed to Hilary (Clinton), and they basically saw his candidacy as a novelty.” Continues Samad, “But he certainly had a charisma around his candidacy that … no previous African-American candidate had had.”

Minister Louis Farrakhan appeared at the Forum twice; first in August of 2000 and again in December 2004. During the 2004 appearance, the Nation of Islam leader reflected on the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March. “Certainly it was a major coup to come and have him speak at a time when he was speaking in stadiums,” relates Samad.

Talk show host Tavis Smiley has appeared three times, and Samad emphasizes how important it was that Smiley spoke at the Forum “in the first public appearance right after he had been let go from BET.” He was able to speak freely, “able to maintain an independent voice.”

Entertainers have also been part of the Forum. Samad says they use the event to “take their issues and their passions outside the realm of entertainment.”

This first awards luncheon takes place Sept. 23 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sheraton Delfina Santa Monica Hotel.

During the 10th anniversary celebration, the Forum will launch the first Newsmakers Luncheon, which will honor advocacy in the community. CNN commentator/TV One host/author Roland Martin is slated to deliver the keynote address. KNBC anchor Beverly White will be mistress of ceremonies.

According to Samad, the luncheon and awards are designed to celebrate issues advocacy. “Issues advocacy is not just calling press conferences chasing media. It’s about advocacy with a truer purpose that goes to pursuing resolutions to real challenges in our society. Advocates and activists who raise real issues in our community are rare and often under attack.”

Those selected for this inaugural awards presentation were chosen because of the intensity of their work and how much their advocacy raised the consciousness of the community and forced a change, noted Samad.

Newsmakers who will be receiving awards at the luncheon include keynote speaker Roland Martin. He will receive the Newsmaker of the Year award and is being honored for being the “first to interview President Barack Obama and keeping African-American issues from being misinterpreted.”

The Issues Advocate of the Year honoree will be Damien Goodmon for his work with the Citizen’s Campaign to Fix Expo (www.fixexpo.org), which is bringing attention to the dangerous design of the Expo Line that is slated to run at-grade past Foshay Middle and Dorsey High schools.

Issues Advocate Life Achievement honoree will go to journalist Betty Pleasant for advocating issues of importance to the community for the past 20 years through her column Soulvine.

The Issue of the Year is the “I Am Oscar Grant” campaign.

The Corporate Advocate honor will be awarded to Sempra Energy, which has been with the Forum all 11 years of its existence. Sempra was the event’s first sponsor and is its “biggest partner.”

The Public Service award will be given to Holly Robinson Peete and Rodney Peete for raising public awareness about autism through the HollyRod Foundation for Help and Hope (www.hollyrod.org).

For the Oct. 9 forum, Samad announced that the speaker is “the third most powerful member of Congress and the second most powerful Black man in America–House Speaker and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-South Carolina).

For more information about the Urban Issues Forum visit their website at www.urbanissuesforum.com or call (323) 993-5920.