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COMMENTARY: The Congressional Black Caucus: Not Always in Headlines, but Never on the Sidelines

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “In celebrating the Congressional Black Caucus, I’m not touting their perfection, because the collective caucus is flawed as any other organization. My biggest bone to pick with Caucus members is all of them won’t sign or align themselves with HR 40, the reparations legislation that Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced thirty years ago.”

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By Julianne Malveaux, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Majority Whip James Clyburn

Majority Whip James Clyburn

What does the Congressional Black Caucus do? It takes Majority Whip James Clyburn to make it understandable. “It’s not only what we make happen, but what we stop from happening,” Clyburn told a standing room only crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Black History Month Celebration on February 26. His words are instructive for folks who get their news from sound bites and tweets. The legislative process is rarely fully televised, and those who put brakes on nonsense proposals never make the headlines. The February 26 event made it clear, in celebration, that the Congressional Black Caucus is often effective on the front lines and the sidelines.

The 116th Congress includes fifty-five members of the Congressional Black Caucus, an incredibly diverse group of African Americans who approach Black liberation (although some might not use the term) differently. Among the fifty-five, there are five who now chair House committees, including Congressional representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA), who chairs the Financial Services Committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) who chairs the Education and Labor Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-MS) who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) who chairs the Government Oversight Committee. Cummings was the only one of the five who was not present, understandably so when one reflected on his leadership in the hearing that examined Michael Cohen, the jail-bound attorney who formerly represented the Nation’s Prevaricator-in-Chief.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bass

Each of them talked about the challenges they face in their roles, especially the fact that progressive legislation that leaves the House of Representatives is often unlikely to pass the Republican-dominated United States Senate and the obstreperous Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (my words, not theirs). But each also talked about issues they will address in their leadership. Congresswoman Waters can subpoena tax returns and bank records. She spoke of the many ways banking boards lack diversity and plans to establish a diversity and inclusion subcommittee as part of the Financial Services Committee. Bennie Thompson and Eddie Bernice Johnson talked about directing money to HBCUs and about the ways that some universities are able to get the majority of federal dollars. Congressman Bobby Scott intrigued me when he talked about the way the media is interested in drama, not substance. On a day when he dealt with both the minimum wage and higher education legislation, most of the questions he got from the media were about Blackface and other scandals in Virginia.

The search for the salacious has been the theme of the 45 administration. One does not have to search far to find payments to prostitutes, pandering to potentates, and other chicanery. The real trickery, however, is happening when our regulatory structure is being decimated, when payday lending rules are hanged by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make predatory lending easier and more exploitative; when education regulations are being changed to make access for Black and other students of color even harder than it is now; when labor regulations are being changed to exploit unions. The federal minimum wage, at $7.25, has not increased in a decade. As such, the Raise The Wage Act should be making headlines. Instead, all cameras, all eyes are on the scandals that dominate this administration.

In celebrating the Congressional Black Caucus, I’m not touting their perfection, because the collective caucus is flawed as any other organization. My biggest bone to pick with Caucus members is all of them won’t sign or align themselves with HR 40, the reparations legislation that Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced thirty years ago. Many say the reparations conversation is impractical. From my perspective, if you are interested in economic justice, you must be interested in restorative and reparatory justice for the descendants of the enslaved people who built this country. That means developing public policy to close the wealth gap. That means developing public policy to increase access to education. That means educating a nation with leaders and teachers who seem to think it is okay to run around in Blackface, hand children cotton bolls or more alarmingly, have children (in South Carolina) actually pick cotton and sing slave songs. That means examining the ways that racist (yes, racist) legislation has exacerbated, not closed the wealth gap.

Our Congressional Black Caucus and, indeed, the Democratic Party that all of them belong to, is flawed, but there are accomplishments, as well. The challenge for us is to lift up the accomplishments amidst a culture that values scandal instead of achievement.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit www.juliannemalveaux.com

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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