By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Since 1971, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has had many strong leaders. As the new 114th Congress of the United States begins, the CBC elected my fellow North Carolina native, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, as its new chairman. I have known the long time freedom fighter and a skillful leader for more than 45 years.
Given the numerous issues and challenges facing Black America, I predict that the CBC under Butterfield’s leadership, the CB will become reinvigorated. It was surprising to hear G.K. say upon being sworn it: “My leadership of this Caucus will be influenced by my experiences growing up in a segregated South. Jim Clyburn often says that, ‘We are the sum total of our experiences’ and that is so true. My life’s experiences are similar to many of my colleagues. We saw racism at its worst.”
Butterfield is from Wilson, N.C., about 65 miles southwest of my hometown of Oxford. In the 1960s, I frequently traveled to Wilson to meet with Milton Fitch, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) state field coordinator. Fitch and SCLC state field director Golden Frinks were two of my mentors during that period.
So when G.K. Butterfield says that he is going the lead the CBC in a manner that will be influenced by his experiences growing up in the segregated South, that is assurance that the CBC will be at the vanguard of the fight for freedom, justice and equality under Butterfield’s watch.
It will be an interesting tenure. The CBC has 46 members from 22 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, the largest CBC delegation in its 44-year history. Will the increased size translate into increased legislative clout? While we can’t definitively answer that question yet, there certainly will be higher expectations of the CBC, even in a Republican-controlled House and Senate.
Butterfield correctly declared that Black America is in a state of emergency.
“For many Black Americans, they are not even close to realizing the American dream,” he explained. “Depending on where they live, an economic depression hangs over their head, and it is burdening their potential and the potential of their children. Black America is in a state of emergency today as it was at the turn of the century!”
As he made clear, Black lives do matter. All lives matter. Although there has been progress in the United States during the past 50 years towards racial justice, racial injustice and inequality still persist. As Congressman Butterfield noted when he was sworn in:
• Twenty-five percent of Black households live below the poverty line, compared to 8 percent for White households;
• One out of three Black children lives in poverty;
• African Americans are twice as likely as Whites to be unemployed;
• African Americans earn $13,000 less per year than their White counterparts;
• The unemployment rate of African Americans has consistently been twice as high as for Whites for past 50 years and
• For every $100 in wealth of a White household, the Black household has only $6.
Congressman Butterfield and his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus cannot change America by themselves. They need and deserve our support. They need our voices and votes to join theirs. We need one another.
America is at another crossroad. Will we revive the U.S. economy and create a more inclusive democracy where race will not be the determining factor that determines the quality of life? We all have an obligation to help determine the answer to that question. May our leadership be blessed with the courage and determination to make a real and lasting difference. And let’s make sure we join them in striving for that goal.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.