NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – On Saturday, Norfolk State University will host its first Senate debate, between Sen. Mark Warner and his challenger Dr. Daniel Gade.

The event is being held in partnership with the Center for African American Public Policy (CAAmPP), which opened last fall.

Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, a historian and dean of the school’s College of Liberal Arts, says CAAmPP was an idea she’s had for years. She credits her upbringing for making it come to life.

“My parents were big advocates of community engagement and taking your talents and abilities and making a difference, not just working and enriching yourself,” she said.

Newby-Alexander wanted to create a space for scholars of all different disciplines to come together and work toward solutions through research and policy for issues the Black community is facing.

“I am a historian but I’m also a public historian,” she said. “I believe the work I do should not only be in a book, but in hearts, minds, and hands. Understanding our history is irrelevant if I’m the only one who understands it. I believe understanding our past connects us with where we are, why we are, and possibly where we can go if we have any desire to improve our current situation.”

And CAAmPP allows those like Newby-Alexander to connect and work with others from different backgrounds.

“It’s not just a public policy center. It’s a center of education. It’s a center of encouragement. It’s a center of enlightenment. It’s a [place] where all individuals, African Americans, white, Native American and all come together and talk freely and understand each other’s positions to create policy where we can move forward to make a greater America and Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Dr. Eric W. Claville, who is the director of the center.

Newby-Alexander had Claville in mind to be the center director when it opened in the fall 2019.

Claville says CAAmPP is doing a number of things such as hosting a public policy radio show called “State of the Water,” where they discuss the state of the African American community.

CAAmP has also hosted town halls, forums, and other political events, according to Claville. The center has 10 faculty research scholars who are working on a number of issues ranging from the effects of racial disparity on children’s access to healthcare, to the St. Paul’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative.

Claville says the center is a different approach to making changes in government instead of being a think tank that forms public opinion.

“The idea of CAAmPP is to bring the community and public policy makers on the grounds so public policy and laws can make an impact on the people it represents,” he said.

The center also hopes to empower the African American community, which has gone voiceless in policy for a long time.

Claville says about seven-eighths of African American history was spent either in servitude or during a time of suppression of rights when they as a people were unable to achieve the American dream.

“We’ve been in America for 400 years but only have had the opportunity for the last 50 years, from 1970 to 2020, to achieve the American dream. It’s important for not just African Americans, but the U.S. and the world, to understand the history of African Americans, the struggle of African Americans, and understand the contributions of African Americans in the world today,” he said.

Newby-Alexander says changes will need to be made to move the country forward. So many issues have come to light in 2020 because, she says, it’s officially the beginning of the new century.

The historian mentioned W.E.B. Dubois’s prediction that problems prevalent in American society would be because of the color line.

She hopes that CAAmPP will be able to solve some of these issues with the talented people who are working for it.

“CAAmPP is utilizing the talents and abilities of all the scholars, not only at NSU, but across the country to come up with solutions to challenges we have,” she said.

And there’s no better place to have the center than Norfolk State, according to Newby-Alexander.

“I believe universities, especially HBCUs, should be at the forefront. NSU has had a long, long, long history for advocacy among its faculty,” she said.

Newby-Alexander says that many helped with research for attorneys during the Civil Rights Movement.

It was a time of great change and perserverance, something that will be needed in the years to come.

Newby-Alexander believes that some will be against what they’re doing and trying to change but they’ll work to make America better for all.

“Our society is being controlled or manipulated by stoking fear. I always say that the fear anyone should have is staying in one place. That’s the only fear you have. When you fail to grow, you’re stagnant. Once you’re stagnant, what’s the purpose of living?” she said.

To learn more about CAAmPP, click here.

NSU and its Center for African American Public Policy (CAAmPP) has partnered with WAVY-TV 10The Virginia Bar Association, and Visit Norfolk to host this weekend’s debate.

The 90-minute debate between Sen. Mark Warner and challenger Dr. Daniel Gade will stream on and on WAVY-TV 10’s Facebook Live channel and on the University’s radio station, WNSB-FM 91.1. at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3.

WAVY-TV 10 will air the recorded debate on Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m.

The debate will be moderated by WAVY-TV 10 journalists Anita Blanton and Regina Mobley.

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