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Honoring John Conyers: A special evening in Detroit

By Richard B. Muhammad -Editor- | Last updated: Oct 10, 2013 - 3:32:17 PM

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Rep. Conyers was recently honored in Detroit for his years of service. Photos: Richard B. Muhammad
DETROIT ( - A night devoted to honoring the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus was not only an evening of moving tributes but ended with John Conyers searching to turn good words into a good way to impact public policy.

The evening at beautiful Greater Grace Temple included a special message delivered by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who lauded the Michigan Democrat for his years of service. Event organizers also raised $50,000 for students at Wayne State University, where the 80-year-old legislator attended law school, in recognizing his nearly 50 years in public life.

“I can do more, I can go further, you have given me a new platform,” said Rep. Conyers as he brought the Sunday evening celebration to a close.

The well-known defender of civil liberties and annual sponsor of H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a study about reparations for slavery, has a history that stretches from supporting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s to fighting against apartheid in the 1980s to stumping for then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama for the 2010 election. In between, he hired civil rights icon Rosa Parks to work in his office, lobbied for the King federal holiday and has stood strong on the need for racial, religious and economic rights and equal justice.

There has to be a way to capture this energy and engagement to help solve the country’s problems, he said.

America needs a full employment bill and perhaps you can help me relay that message to the president, Rep. Conyers told the audience. He was accompanied by his wife, Monica, two sons and other family members and friends.

There was plenty of Motown in the Sept. 29 celebration from a combined choir composed of citywide volunteers to youngsters playing jazz, which Rep. Conyers has championed and declared a national treasure, to performances by the legendary Four Tops, jazz and gospel artists.

There was plenty of political homage from city council members, the governor, state lawmakers and the delegation to the U.S. Congress. There was a video tribute from author and academic Michael Eric Dyson, who is from Detroit, and video messages from Black lawmakers stuck in Washington, D.C., as a government shutdown loomed. The congressman was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.

His is a remarkable career for a man first elected to office in 1965 by just over 160 votes. Labor unions lionized him and prisoners he visited painted a portrait presented to him at a pre-program reception.

The legendary Four Tops performed.
Mayor Dave Bing thanked Rep. Conyers for not only historic work, but current work to ensure the cash strapped city received $300 million in needed federal money.

Without pressure from the representative of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, the money would not be coming, he said.

Hiram E. Jackson, of the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times media, talked about the benefit of having a strong Black man in his home growing up and likened it to the congressman. “That’s what we’ve had for the past 50 years, a strong Black man in the House of Representatives,” he said.

“It’s such a great honor Congressman Conyers to be here with you tonight because of your unequaled service, not only to your suffering people out of whom you’ve come, and you feel our pain and you stand for us when many were not able to stand for themselves,” said Min. Farrakhan.

He thanked the congressman for inviting him to be at his table at the Congressional Black Caucus annual weekend at a time when the Minister faced widespread criticism. Rep. Conyers did what he thought was right, not caring what others felt, said Min. Farrakhan.

Community, family and friends gathered at Greater Temple Grace Temple to honor Rep. John Conyers. Photos: Richard B. Muhammad
“And if my brother feels that his brother should be rebuked it’s alright because he’s earned the right to speak his mind, he’s earned the right to tell us what he thinks is the best course for us to take.  He’s earned the right to be himself on all sides, on all occasions and for that I love my brother,” said Min. Farrakhan.

Earlier this year, Rep. Conyers attended a speech by Min. Farrakhan calling for Detroiters to pool their resources and redevelop the city. Under pressure from the ADL, the congressman apologized days afterward. The Minister didn’t mention the event.

“John Conyers has wings that God gave him to rise above the negatives of our lives. To rise above the pain of being a voice for the voiceless; to rise above being rebuked and scorned and evil spoken of but he kept moving with the dignity and nobility of his character to achieve for us that which says there is no grave for our brother who will be along with all those who have sacrificed their lives to make life better for others.  Such a man is Congressman Conyers,” said Min. Farrakhan.

The Rev. Jim Holley, a chairman of the event, described Rep. Conyers’ impact as wide and significant. The congressman has positively impacted the entire country, he said.