Black Policy Day Gathers Advocates and Lawmakers

The day-long event served as a chance to meet and uplift the needs of Black West Virginians and to convey those needs to state lawmakers

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“Say It Loud!”

“I’m Black and I’m proud!”

“Say It Loud!”

“I’m Black and I’m proud!”

It only took a quick round of call-and-response for Del. Danielle Walker, D- Monongalia, with a booming voice and a boot on her foot, to set the tone for an early morning crowd gathered at the Capitol for Black Policy Day.

“Understand that all 134 of us — including the Governor 135 — we work for you,” she said. “When we are on one accord, they can’t stop us.”

The day-long event, held for the first time last year, served as a chance for a diverse group of advocates, policy experts, students and concerned citizens to gather and uplift the needs of Black West Virginians and to convey those needs to state lawmakers.

Black Policy Day attendees gather in a unity circle at the Capitol rotunda many wearing golden paper crowns to support the Crown Act. Photo provided by Black Voters Initiative.

That included calls for legislators to take substantive action to address a range of disparities in the state that disproportionately affect Black people and other marginalized communities.

“We live in the shadows of the most affluent in the state of West Virginia,” said Rev. Matthew Watts, a pastor at Grace Bible Church on Charleston’s West Side. “Yet we have the poorest performing schools and one of the more undereducated neighborhoods.”

Others argued that there has been a deliberate lack of focus on the needs of Black people in the state, and that this negligence has had dire consequences. Staysha Quentrill, the only Black midwife in West Virginia, noted that this is particularly seen in the range of health issues Black communities face.

Staysha Quentrill (left), the only Black midwife in West Virginia and her Daughter. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

“Those are not health disparities, they are health injustices,” she said. “Those things are done.”

Advocates made a point of highlighting specific legislation that lawmakers could tackle, particularly the passage of the CROWN Act, which would ban discrimination based on hair texture and style. As the day went on, Black West Virginians were clear about their goal: not only should the state act to address the needs of Black communities, they should prioritize the solutions set forth by the people most affected by the issues.

For that to happen, organizers involved with Black Policy Day say that the most important thing is that Black West Virginians recognize the power of using their voices. When it comes to advocating at the Legislature “there is so much more to learn,” said Katonya Hart, one of the organizers of the event. “Part of that is getting people to decide that they should come up here and realize that this building belongs to them.”

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