There’s consensus among political experts that the location, moderator and audience at the June 28 Democratic presidential debate, held at Howard University, forced candidates to discuss solutions to issues concerning Blacks and other minority voters. A second forum for candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination will be broadcast by PBS in September from another historically Black campus, Morgan State University, in Baltimore.

“Context shapes content,” says Georgetown University professor and author Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. “The audience made the candidates focus on questions they may not have been asked in the broader society.”

It was PBS talk show host and author Tavis Smiley’s idea to host the two “All-American Presidential Forums.” Smiley said in a CSPAN interview that his biggest challenge was convincing PBS that the forums would be worthwhile. Smiley has said his goal was to “provide an unprecedented level of inclusion” in the discussion of issues affecting the country’s future.

Massachusetts’ first Black governor, Deval Patrick, introduced the eight Democratic candidates: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson.

The forum, scheduled more than four months ago, took place on the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against allowing two major public school districts to consider race in their plans to diversify their student bodies.

Candidates spent much of their time discussing their preferred education policies, including reforming or repealing the No Child Left Behind Act, establishing universal kindergarten, funding primary and college education and ensuring that minorities who earn degrees have a fair chance in the workplace.

“It was wonderful and refreshing to hear education made a central issue,” Dyson said.

Michel Martin of National Public Radio, Ruben Navarrette Jr. of The Washington Post Writers Group and DeWayne Wickham of USA Today took turns questioning the candidates on their plans for ending racial discrimination, poverty, unemployment and persistent health disparities.

Ann-Marie Adams, a Howard student working on a doctorate in history, said the debate energized her as a voter.

“This is the first time I heard any presidential debate in which the candidates spoke about issues that deeply affect people of color,” she says. “I am now more interested in the election than I have ever been.”

Reprinted from