For several years I walked the thick white marble hallway of the West Virginia capitol as a lobbyist. I taught myself the craft after being frustrated in not knowing about policy during the West Virginia Water crisis of 2014 and the subsequent Aboveground Storage “Tank Bill.”
The process seemed foreign to me. It was.
“ I’m only a bill on Capitol hill” is just the intro to the mixtape of policy procedures.
My citizen engagement was to vote and call or write when told. Until I got curious about how the Legislature really worked. I started asking questions, and with the investment of several seasoned lobbyists, I learned by meeting the obstacles of not knowing through immersion and perseverance.
Year after year, the lack of Black faces and a unified Black agenda at the Capitol was evident. Of course, there would be specified days that Black folks showed up, but those came and went. Lawmakers know every day is somebody’s day, and tomorrow will be another.
There were always a few soldiers who showed up, policy in hand, like Rev. Watts, Jennifer Wells, Sheila Coleman-Castells, Stephanie Tyree, and others. Still, for 60 days outside of a few familiar faces and those BIPOC persons representing national entities or higher education – it was me, the capitol staffers, and the Black Delegates who held a Black presence.
This comes at a cost.
For 60 days, Black people are not seen, and perhaps that’s what enables a Delegate to speak on the House floor (last week) that Black people are “imaginary” and “fairy tales” — they do not see us.
During my tenure as a lobbyist, I longed for a community of Black policymakers, and although I am transitioning from policy work to founding Black By God and Folk- Reporters, I am delighted to see the
The Class of 2021: Young, Gifted Black In West Virginia Policy
“FOR WHILE WE HAVE OUR EYES ON THE FUTURE,HISTORY HAS ITS EYES ON US. THIS IS THE ERA OF JUST REDEMPTION WE FEARED AT ITS INCEPTION.” ~ AMANDA GORMAN
Throughout this country’s history, Young Black people have been denied access to the halls of power. West Virginia is no exception.
It’s time we let them show us the way by opening the door for them and not just settle for the face in the room, but give them access to the tools and support for real power and success.
A seat at the table means nothing without the plate, the spoon, the knife. We must have the tools.
We need young people to inform policy.
We need more young Black elected officials.
We need more young Black staffers.
We need more young Black researchers.
We need more Black policy analysts.
We need more Black lobbyists.
We need more Black lawyers.
And we need more Black writers to inform the public and keep lawmakers accountable.