We the (Young) People Bulletin: Black History Month Recap
The Young Elected Officials Network and the members of YEO’s Black Caucus -- representing 26% of our total membership -- work every day of the year to uplift and amplify the voices of America’s young Black elected leaders who are acting boldly to effect progressive change in communities across the country. Back in February, during the national observance of Black History Month, we talked to YEO Greg Scott, an elected Magisterial District Judge from Norristown, Pennsylvania, about American history being so closely tied to the rich history and deep contributions of Black Americans. We also talked about the tremendous work still left to be done to mend the historic and systematic racism that still exists today. We also compiled a bulletin highlighting the work of members of YEO’s Black Caucus who are leading true change in their communities and other helpful resources.
For more details on Judge Greg Scott’s Black History Month-related thoughts, please check out the We the (Young) People Podcast!
Black History Month 2020
The theme of Black History Month 2020 is “African Americans and the Right to Vote,” to honor the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments.
In 1869, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, allowing Black male Americans the right to vote. However, the struggle for voting rights continued with Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, it is still not over, even after the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965.
Despite the headwinds, Black voter turnout remains among the highest of all American racial groups, having the highest turnout of any group in 2008 and coming close in 2012. However, we have witnessed new efforts in recent years to use suppression tactics to make it harder for Black and other communities of color to exercise the right to vote, including restrictive voter ID laws, gerrymandering, inequitable support for election execution in Black communities, voter rolls purges and more.
Joseph Rainey of Mississippi was the first Black* man to be elected to Congress in 1870. In 1968, Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress. There have been 162 Black Members of Congress. Hiram Revels of Mississippi was the first Black man to be elected to the Senate in 1870. Carol Mosely Braun was the first Black woman to be elected to the Senate in 1993. In total, there have only been 10 Black United States Senators, only 6 of which were popularly elected. It was not until 2013 that two Black persons served simultaneously in the United States Senate.
Despite gains in political representation, gaps still exist. There are currently no Black governors today and there have only been 4 in United States History.
But there is hope: YEO has a member-created Black Caucus and about 26% of YEOs are members. Black YEO’s are also the network’s fastest growing demographic group.
YEOs who are working to uplift and empower Black communities
Young Elected Officials all over the United States are working to improve the lives of Black people in their own communities. Here are some examples based on policies you sent us:
Magisterial District Judge Greg Scott (@GregScottPA - Pennsylvania’s 38th District) discusses his career as the youngest Magisterial District Judge in Pennsylvania and the first Black judge in Montgomery county, as well as his philosophy behind the criminal justice system and how it impacts people of color, especially boys and men in the We the (Young) People Podcast .
State Senator Raumesh Akbari (@SenAukbari - Tennessee’s 29th District) helped introduce the Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, in the Tennessee Senate; and resolutions declaring Mrs. Rosa L. Parks Day on December 1st, Juneteenth Day on June 19th, Emancipation Day on August 8th, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.
State Representative Sarah Anthony (@SarahAnthony517 - Michigan's 68th District) introduced a bill that would remove racist and discriminatory language from property deeds in order to end the impact of redlining for future generations.
Bettina Umstead (@BettinaUmstead- Vice-Chair of Durham Public Schools Board of Education, Durham, North Carolina) started the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action in Durham to promote cultural education for public school students.
Steven Jackson (Facebook: steven4d3 - Caddo Parish Commissioner, Louisiana) has passed a bill to provide funding to local criminal justice entities to offset expungement costs for low-income individuals by allowing them to participate in 15 hours of approved community service. He has also worked to start a film festival that supports Black creators and is currently working to honor Mr. Willie D. Burton Jr, an activist and author from his community.
State Assemblyman Jamel Holley (@jamelholley- New Jersey’s 20th District) sponsored a bill to end the school-to-prison pipeline, assist individuals in recovery and rehabilitation, reduce the number of repeat offenders and provide savings for formerly incarcerated individuals. He also sponsored a bill to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated citizens and worked on a “clean slate” process to render convictions and related records inaccessible.
Talking Points for YEOs who want to emphasize the importance of Black history and progress in their communities
Black history is American history, and we should celebrate it during Black History Month and during every other month of the year, too.
Full voting rights with no complications or suppression should be granted to every American, especially Black Americans who have been denied these fundamental rights for so many years.
Elected officials at any age and any level of government can help make changes in their community for a more inclusive and just society.
*More information on why Black is capitalized is available here.