A LOOK BACK: THE 2021 WEST VIRGINIA BLACK LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
As we plan for a curious 2022 Legislative Session. A look back at the 2021 West Virginia Black policy agenda with BBG Folk Reporter Kate Jordan.
A LOOK BACK:
THE 2021 WEST VIRGINIA BLACK LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
What’s That?| By Folk Reporter Kate Jordan
This article was originally published March 28, 2021 on blackbygod.substack.com
It began with the spark of an idea from an entrepreneur, Crystal Good, that caught ablaze with the help of a beautiful connector, Johnna Bailey, who knew a brown-skinned girl, me, with a bit of writing talent. We plotted to understand and ask, if a collective Black Legislative Agenda for West Virginia existed and, if not, how we could help spark one.
We collected information between work schedules and time zones – it was a quick push to complete. We wanted to reach as many people as we could, from lawmakers to movers, shakers, and everyday citizens, to share their voices.
And at first, I found myself unsure of what a “Black Legislative Agenda” was and tried to make sense of the policy conversation I found myself in with two women who seemed to have a good deal of knowledge on policy and policy organizations across West Virginia.
Then I asked myself, “Why have I never heard of these programs or policy initiatives? I am a learned person? I keep abreast of happenings? “
And then, our mission came full circle.
Our mission is one for the underdog that got left behind in the policy-making process and education.
Our brainstorming began with the inquiry: What policies are you trying to put forth during the upcoming legislative session?
This ignited discussions with more profound meaning and context that essentially led to the realization that what we are trying to put together is something that has never been done in our lifetimes, a new endeavor, The West Virginia Black Legislative Agenda.
Not an agenda for the working class or one which would encompass all minorities, but one agenda to be considered by the legislature of West Virginia with the interest of Black men, women, and children of our state at the forefront.
My colleagues and I decided on several pointed questions to ask in a short survey, and we sent this information out in an email blast.
We inquired of community members by asking them if they participated in the legislative sessions and what policies and bills they were putting forth, supporting, or opposing.
Additionally, we wanted to know why organizations and individuals support, for example, The Crown Act. We asked what impact they thought bills and policy have on West Virginia? We asked if organizations were opposing any bills, and again, if so, why?
We asked if people knew other organizations doing policy work for the Black community. Every question was pertinent and essential. I liked that our mission was not just social but also scientific.
As our survey began to populate and I continued to have meaningful conversations with my colleagues, I noticed something. With disappointment, we didn’t have responses from many lawmakers.
But on the flipside of that, we did hear from smaller organizations and involved citizens. While the lawmakers may be more of the movers and the shakers, I was happy to hear from the “everyman.”
We built our categories around the House and Senate committees.
I learned categories like Agriculture and Rural Development were not of interest to the survey responders. In contrast, Health and Human Resources began to fill up with requests to extend Medicaid benefits and maternal health benefits and services.
Workplace Equality is a category that Black By God created because we received so many responses regarding The Crown Act, a policy designed to stop the discrimination on race-based hairstyles. This category also included The Katherine Johnson Fair Pay Act. This bill would prohibit employers from requesting wage history to make hiring and compensation decisions and prevent employees from discussing wages or benefits. You can read an update on both these (or any) bills using the Mountain State Spotlight Bill Tracker.
Rick Martin, former President of the Charleston branch NAACP, shared his vision to enrich African-American youth’s lives by understanding the unrecognized parallel in need for Police Reform. This was echoed by several others who raised the need for reform in response to the concern over suspension and expulsion policies of K-12 education.
Going hand in hand with Education was a plea for equal access to technology. More specifically, the Morgantown chapter of the NAACP acknowledged disparities in access for all to broadband and internet capabilities.
As Covid-19 continues to dominate our world, education will continue to be an “online” process. It is more essential than ever that the internet be an amenity that is accessible to all.
One result of our outreach was the B lack By God Citizens Guide to Online Advocacy tool.
As I processed our results, the categories with the most attention and concern, certain realities became clear to me.
African-Americans are kept down and have always been kept down or left behind in a very sneaky, systematic manner.
Where is the proof for my claim?
My proof is in the very policies that are being put forth.
There have always been sneaky, conniving ways to keep Black people from gaining a seat at the head of the table, and when we do arrive, it’s “Oh, you have braids in your hair, that won’t do.”
The Black Legislative Agenda is a start in attempting to organize a conversation around policies.
It is a huge undertaking, a big idea that can help support Black people raise their voices in confidence just like the recent Young, Gifted, and Black in West Virginia Policy Makers did. WATCH HERE
We will get this work done.
Black By God is planning a special 2022 legislative edition centering on Black issues and policymakers. We need volunteers for our Folk Reporters citizen journalist program, and I’m writing to invite you to participate in West Virginia’s 2022 Black Legislative Agenda survey.
Kate Jordan is a Brazilian-born native of Charleston, WV.
She is a West Virginia University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, and she holds a Master’s degree from Marshall University in English, Medieval, and Renaissance Literature.
Kate is a certified K-12 teacher and currently works her teaching magic at The Charleston Job Corps.
She is passionate about education and enjoys the opportunity to introduce young adults to her love of the arts and appreciation for academics.
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