Bill to celebrate 400 years of Black History passes House of Representatives

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
In a rare display of bipartisanship in Congress, the United States House of Representatives voted to establish a commission to examine 400 years of African American history.
House bill H.R. 1242 is designed “to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) sponsored the bill in the House and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it’s waiting to be passed.
According to Washington insiders, the bill will most likely pass by unanimous consent in the Senate.
Once the bill known as the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act,” or H.R. 1242 in the House, passes Congress, it will land on President Donald Trump’s desk.
If H.R. 1242 becomes law, the resulting commission would consist of 15 members, who would serve without pay. The legislation would authorize the commission to create grants to communities, nonprofits and other groups to hold events that would commemorate the anniversary of slaves arriving in the U.S. The commission could hire staff and also accept volunteers to perform its mission. The commission would be required to submit a report to Congress and terminate in July of 2020.
In a statement about the bill last year, Kaine said that he’s been lucky to be a part of federal commissions that have been formed to study and celebrate English and Hispanic history. “Well, if English lives matter, if Latino lives matter, then African American lives matter and they’ve mattered every day since the landing of those ‘20 and odd’ African Americans at Point Comfort, Virginia,” said Kaine.
Kaine continued: “The story has a lot of pain to it, but it’s a story that has to be told to commemorate that we as a nation—had it not been for 400 years of African American history—would be absolutely unrecognizable. What we hope to do with this bill is engage in something we should do to tell the story in a different way than it may have been told 50 to 100 years ago.”
In late March, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, “that implementing the bill would cost about $2 million a year—a total of $6 million over the 2018-2021 period.”
In a floor statement about the bill last summer, Rep. Bobby Scott said that African Americans have contributed greatly to the United States and their achievements deserve to be celebrated.
“The history of Virginia and our nation cannot be fully understood without recognizing the role played by the slave trade,” said Scott. “Slavery was an abhorrent institution; but for hundreds of years, it was the foundation of the colonial and early American agricultural system and was essential to its economic sustainability.”
Scott continued: “The 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act will be instrumental in recognizing and highlighting the resilience and contributions of African Americans since 1619. From slavery, to fighting in the Civil War, to working against the oppression of Jim Crow segregation, to the civil rights movement, the rich history of African Americans and their contributions to our Nation began hundreds of years ago but obviously does not end there.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a speaker, writer and political analyst. She appears on “NewsOne Now” with Roland Martin every Monday. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

President Trump and the Black Congressional Caucus plan to meet for the first time

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

cong-black-caucus
 CBC members taken during a press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. in September 2016. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)
Following a bizarre exchange with American Urban Radio Networks White House Correspondent April Ryan, the Congressional Black Caucus is in talks with President Donald Trump to set up a meeting.
Trump asked, Ryan, a veteran Black journalist, if she could set up a meeting with him and the CBC, as if Ryan was an employee of the White House or a special assistant to the CBC. Ryan responded by saying, “I’m a journalist.”
The confusing exchange was one of several moments at an unscheduled press conference Trump held at the White House on February 16.
“Since the White House has reached out in an appropriate manner to request a meeting with the caucus, I am now in discussions with them about setting one up,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said in a statement after the press conference concluded.
During an interview on MSNBC on February 17, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said that, “Steve Bannon cannot be in the room,” when the CBC meets with President Trump. “He’s a stone cold racist.” Bannon is currently the president’s chief strategist and served as a high-ranking executive at Breitbart News, an online publication known for trafficking in right-wing, alternative news that Bannon himself defined as “the platform for the alt-right.” The term “alt-right” is increasingly used to describe a new and emerging movement of racists and White supremacists.

Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), said the following in response to President Trump’s comments regarding a meeting with the Black Caucus: “President Trump has been in office for almost a month and the Congressional Black Caucus — which at a historic 49 members is almost a fourth of the House Democratic Caucus and represents millions of African Americans — did not hear from the White House until we introduced ourselves on Twitter after the White House press conference today.”
The statement continued: “For whatever reason, the letter the Congressional Black Caucus sent to then President-elect Trump and incoming White House officials on January 19 was not enough to get their attention. As the letter explained, President Trump’s ‘New Deal for Black America’ is ill-informed and insufficient and he would be wise to tap into the decades of expertise held by the Congressional Black Caucus when it comes to addressing issues that affect African Americans.”
The CBC, which is now at its largest membership in history, traditionally requests a meeting with the new president after the inauguration. Ironically, some of the meetings the CBC had with President Obama, specifically on the topics of jobs and the challenges of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have had tense moments. President Obama did not meet with the Congressional Black Caucus during his first year in office. Meetings between Obama and the CBC were scarce even though most of the members and the President were members of the same party.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. She is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

The CBC places Blacks in power on Capitol Hill

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

hillstaffers_7892_fallen_web120More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. This photo was taken during a recent CBC press conference outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

 

In early December, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies led by Spencer Overton, released a devastating report on staff diversity in the United States Senate.“African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers,” the report found.

The Joint Center was careful to focus on senior staff positions in their Senate staff study. On January 5, the National Urban League will host a forum on Senate staff diversity on Capitol Hill. The only good news regarding the numbers on Black staff in the halls of power in Capitol Hill is on the House side.

More than 75 percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus have Black Chiefs of Staff. Currently, 32 members of the CBC have a Black Chief of Staff. Additionally, the Senate’s only Black Republican, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), currently employs the Senate’s only Black Chief of Staff.

In July, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan posted a photo on Instagram of over 70 Capitol Hill interns and not one was African American. Internships and fellowships on Capitol Hill are a key pipeline to building leadership experience in the halls of power.

Speaker Ryan’s Instagram image was a jarring visual of what many have known on Capitol Hill for years: That the staffs and the pipelines to get to power and be positioned for decision-making roles remains overwhelmingly White. Ironically, Ryan will have a Black Chief of Staff, Jon Burks, starting this month.

But when it comes to the number of senior staffers in Congress overall, particularly Chiefs of Staff, members of the CBC easily employ the majority. Though Black Chiefs of Staff are all but non-existent (1 percent) in the U.S. Senate, on the House side it’s a different story. Black Chiefs include Duron Marshall who is Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s (D-Mich.) Chief of Staff; Yelberton Watkins, who is Rep. Jim Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) longtime Chief of Staff; Michael Cooper who is Rep. John Lewis’ (D-Ga.) Chief of Staff and Veleter Mazyck, who is Rep. Marcia Fudge’s (D-Ohio) Chief of Staff.

It matters who serves in the very top jobs: Those in senior staff positions have a major say in policy decisions and advise lawmakers directly. Chiefs of Staff and other senior staff members often move on to powerful well paying jobs in the private sector.

On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., just as in most places where there are budgets allocations to be decided on and jobs to fill, the person who makes the decision on those matters is the person with the most power and that often is not only the elected official, but also their Chief of Staff.             The Chief is also the gatekeeper for resumes and hiring staff. A typical Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill earns between $120,000 and $168,000.The conversation on hiring has been going on for years, but it was crystalized by the detailed report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

For many White Democrats in the Senate the numbers are particularly embarrassing. Several Senators, who have millions of African American constituents, have no Black senior staff members. The state with the most African Americans in the U.S. is Georgia with 3.1 African Americans according to the 2010 Census. Georgia is followed by New York (3 million), Florida (2.9 million), Texas (2.9 million), California (2.9 million), North Carolina (2 million), Illinois (1.8 million), Maryland (1.7 million), Virginia (1.5 million) and Louisiana (1.5 million).

But not one Black senior staffer from any of those states now serves on the staffs of the U.S. Senators from the above states with the largest African American populations. None of them have a Black Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, Communications Director or State Director.

On December 12, outgoing Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield released a statement on staff diversity. “The near complete absence of African American senior staff in personal and committee offices in the Senate is not reflective of the inclusiveness ideals of our government, and of our country. The CBC has long championed African American inclusion in all industries, and launched CBC TECH 2020 last year to promote diversity in the technology industry,” said Butterfield. “But the fact that the United States Congress, an institution that was created to represent all people, still has not taken meaningful steps to increase diversity is disappointing and requires an immediate remedy.”

Butterfield continued: “There are plenty of offices hiring, on both sides of the aisle, and in both chambers, where Senators and Representatives can hire talented African American candidates. Yet, from our records, with the start of the next Congress, the Senate is poised to have one African American Senate Chief of Staff and no African American staff directors, if immediate action is not taken.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a political analyst who speaks on politics and African American leadership. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. She can be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.