USA TODAY International Edition

After 2020, ‘ It’s time for the next narrative’

As US grapples with crises, what’s next for Black America?

- Donna M. Owens

The arc of Timuel Black Jr.’ s life is long, covering most of the 20th century and all we’ve seen of the 21st. Along the way, the 102- year- old labor organizer, educator, author and freedom fighter has witnessed pivotal events in American and African American history.

As an infant, he survived the influenza pandemic of 1918. He was part of the Great Migration, which brought his family north from Alabama to Chicago. As an Army soldier in World War II, he battled Hitler abroad and segregatio­n at home. During the civil rights movement, he led a contingent to the March on Washington in 1963.

He counts former President Barack Obama as a protege, supports the Black Lives Matter movement

and is experienci­ng another pandemic, COVID- 19.

“Though the struggle goes on, I am encouraged by younger generation­s, in particular, across races and gender,” Black told USA TODAY. “They’re fighting to make things better economical­ly, socially, politicall­y for everyone, not just for themselves.”

The country is grappling with crises that have disproport­ionately shaken Black Americans: COVID- 19, economic instabilit­y and resurgent racism.

Four years of a White House occupied by President Donald Trump emboldened bigotry, exposing deep racial divides and simmering resentment. The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others ignited global protests last year. In a nation devastated by the coronaviru­s, the racial unrest felt like “a match dropped into a powder keg of grief,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League.

The powder keg exploded Jan. 6, when a mostly white male mob stormed the U. S. Capitol to protest the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer.

Trump had riled up supporters that day by again claiming without evidence that the election had been stolen, and he urged them to march to the Capitol to try to stop the electoral votes from being counted. Trump was impeached – for the second time – for allegedly inciting the mob. Many say this chapter does not end with Trump’s exit from office.

“He is a symptom, not the cause. If we do not find a path forward that goes beyond consequenc­es for just one man, this can and will happen again,” said Quentin James, president of the Collective PAC, which works to elect and politicall­y empower African Americans. “The rhetoric, often racist and hateful, that encouraged the participan­ts in the attack will not just go away.”

America and its 330 million people, including nearly 43 million Black Americans, are at a critical inflection point. What’s next to propel an agenda of progress?

2020 a success for voting rights

Despite its difficulties, 2020 was a year of “remarkable progress” in the fight for racial equity, said Cliff Albright, co- founder of Black Voters Matter. “The challenges affecting Black America became the biggest issues on the presidenti­al ballot for the first time in modern history. And Southern Black voters made history with unpreceden­ted turnout at the polls, largely driven by demands to see changes in their communitie­s,” he said.

Co- founder LaTosha Brown said, “We’ve achieved so much in the past year because of our voting power, and now we must continue to build and maintain that power.”

Years of Black grassroots organizing, the Black Lives Matter movement and multiracia­l coalitions sparked recordbrea­king Black turnout that set the stage for Biden and Harris’ historic victory over Trump and the election of Raphael Warnock to the U. S. Senate from Georgia.

“The win unlocks the full possibilit­y of the restorativ­e and transforma­tional agenda that Black voters and organizers worked for in November,” said Arisha Hatch, executive director of Color Of Change PAC. “This improbable and hard- won victory will allow Presidente­lect Biden to pursue the agenda he laid forth in his victory speech, one that centers the needs of Black communitie­s.”

To move forward, healing must commence, said Al Sharpton, president/ founder of the National Action Network. First, “the injured parties” require a seat at the table. “You can’t have this discussion without African Americans, given all the ills we’ve suffered as a people. Progressiv­es and conservati­ves must speak to us, not for us. They don’t know what we need.”

Sharpton was among seven civil rights leaders who met with Biden and Harris in December. Also participat­ing were leaders from the NAACP, the Urban League, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participat­ion and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The 90- minute discussion, which included Rep. Cedric Richmond, D- La., whom Biden tapped to head the White House Office of Public Engagement, ranged from advancing racial equity to enforcing civil rights to ensuring the administra­tion represents the diversity of America. Separately, Biden’s team met with the Rev. William J. Barber II, cochair of the Poor People’s Campaign, about ways to aid impoverish­ed and lower- wealth individual­s and families.

“The structural inequality that’s rooted deep within our society must be addressed,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. “We must prioritize the transforma­tion of our nation into a more just, equal society where all can succeed and thrive.”

The NAACP urges Biden to create a White House position for a national adviser on racial justice who would centralize “bold, visionary thinking and strategy on racial justice” and foster practices to tackle systemic racism.

Henry Fernandez, a national pollster with the African American Research Collaborat­ive, sampled thousands of voters in recent months to learn their priorities and concerns. Though “COVID dominates,” discrimina­tion and racial justice are No. 2 among Black respondent­s,” he said. Next are jobs and the economy, followed by police reform.

The National Urban League’s annual State of Black America report, “Unmasked,” cites a sobering statistic: African Americans and Latinos are more than three times as likely to contract the coronaviru­s as whites, and African Americans are nearly twice as likely to die.

Black patients tend to be far sicker when receiving treatment, in part, because they are less likely to have health insurance. The health care system may downplay their symptoms. In a video that went viral in December, Black physician Susan Moore alleged implicit bias by a white doctor at an Indiana hospital. Moore moved to another facility but died soon after, reportedly from COVID- 19 complicati­ons.

The incident hits home for Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participat­ion, who is a COVID- 19 survivor. “The administra­tion’s COVID task force must pay special attention to what is happening with racial disparitie­s in hospital care, especially as it relates to who is admitted when they show up for treatment based on race and gender,” she said.

The report found that 20% of essential workers, largely people of color, live in poverty, and more than 40% rely on public assistance. The Black unemployme­nt rate has remained twice as high as that of whites, at nearly 7%.

“We need a broad stimulus plan and a secondary economic infrastruc­ture recovery plan that focuses on long- term investment: broadband, transporta­tion and community facilities,” Morial said. “That plan has to have specific measures in it that ensure that Black and brown workers and businesses have an opportunit­y to participat­e. Business as usual and exclusiona­ry practices are not going to work.”

Addressing uneven policy

Even as protests continue in the streets, activists are addressing policy at the local, state and federal levels.

After this summer’s Democratic and Republican national party convention­s, the 2020 Black National Convention, held virtually, drew nearly half a million participan­ts.

“We have a vision for Black lives and a plan,” said Jessica Byrd, co- organizer of the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project, a coalition of 100plus groups behind the convention.

“We helped mobilize millions to vote, and it’s harvest time,” Byrd said. “But the work is not done.”

The movement’s political platform addresses slavery reparation­s, income, criminal justice, housing investment­s, the environmen­t and more.

A major legislativ­e initiative is the BREATHE Act, which would divest federal resources from incarcerat­ion and policing; invest in nonpunitiv­e approaches to community safety; allocate funding to build healthy, sustainabl­e and equitable communitie­s; and enhance Black self- determinat­ion. “It’s a legislativ­e love letter to Black people and a modern day landmark civil rights bill,” said Patrisse Cullors, co- founder of Black Lives Matter. “We can’t stop at survival. We also have to ask, what does it take for Black people to thrive?”

It will take bold, transforma­tive policymaki­ng – from cities to state capitols to the halls of Congress.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D- Ohio, the new chair of the Congressio­nal Black Caucus, pledged, “I will work with the Biden administra­tion, House and Senate leadership, as well as my congressio­nal colleagues, to defeat the pandemic and ensure better days lie ahead for all of us.

“Moreover, I will use my voice to address enduring economic and health disparitie­s and fight to break the chains of systemic racism that have held back the Black community for far too long.”

The CBC marks its 50th anniversar­y this year with a record 59 members, 28 of them women. Beatty indicated the caucus will focus on racial wealth equity, affordable health care, stronger housing and education policies, criminal justice reform and the environmen­t.

Any battle plan for progress must incorporat­e building and fortifying Black institutio­ns, said Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Black think tank. That includes businesses, think tanks, political and advocacy organizati­ons, historical­ly Black colleges and universiti­es, community groups, churches and the like.

“Laws and politician­s will come and go. Some will be good and others will be bad for Black folks. Strong Black institutio­ns allow us to weather the storms, exercise agency and leadership, debate, participat­e and fully take advantage of opportunit­ies,” Overton said.

In this season of racial reckoning, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, is bullish on holding entities accountabl­e, from government to corporatio­ns. The racial justice group negotiated a long- term commitment from Facebook for fighting discrimina­tion.

“Racial justice can’t be a stand- alone issue, it has to be integrated into everything,” Robinson said. “It means actually addressing and repairing the harm done by generation­s of institutio­nalized racist policy in government and society and moving forward to a better future.”

Glynda Carr is the co- founder and CEO of Higher Heights, which helps elect Black women. Its network was pivotal to the history- making candidacy of Harris and numerous national, state and local victories. “The next phase of our collective political power is how do we hold elected officials accountabl­e and receive a return on our voting investment? We can’t continue to say Black women decide elections, but at the end of the day, the daily lives of everyday Americans, African Americans and Black women’s circumstan­ces don’t change.”

David Johns is executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organizati­on focused on LGBTQ equality. He wants Black Americans to take care of themselves – and each other. “We will continue laboring to ensure that each of us, our families and our communitie­s can fully and meaningful­ly participat­e in every facet of American life,” Johns said. “We will continue to push this nation to live up to the promise of its founding principles of liberty and justice for all.”

Timuel Black agrees: “All people need to be aware that on this Earth, in all the generation­s, politics is part of the answer – a very important part – and the control of who is going to, at the top level, make decisions about the distributi­on of food, clothing and shelter to all is the challenge that I see.”

He said Black America should carry a we- shall- overcome attitude that channels the fortitude of the ancestors.

“Do I think there’s a continuati­on of the theme who we had with Dr. Martin Luther King and other leaders across the world?” he said. “The idea is, be optimistic and believe in the song that we sang at the March on Washington and other places throughout the world: ‘ We shall overcome. We shall overcome. One day.’

“That is the legacy which my generation, following the inheritanc­e of my ancestors, have continued to believe. That this world can be and ought to be a world of safety and comfort for all people ... as expressed in the Constituti­on of the United States. We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men, and gradually to human beings, are created equal, are endowed. So that is encouragin­g and inspires this old man to continue the movement.”

 ?? LIZ DUFOUR / USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Last year saw “remarkable progress” in the fight for racial equity, reflected on ballot issues and in voter turnout, activists say.
LIZ DUFOUR / USA TODAY NETWORK Last year saw “remarkable progress” in the fight for racial equity, reflected on ballot issues and in voter turnout, activists say.
 ?? JACK GRUBER/ USA TODAY ?? Tyrone Carter speaks June 3 at the site in Minneapoli­s where George Floyd was killed by a police officer a week earlier. Video of the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as the man struggled to breathe triggered worldwide protests.
JACK GRUBER/ USA TODAY Tyrone Carter speaks June 3 at the site in Minneapoli­s where George Floyd was killed by a police officer a week earlier. Video of the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as the man struggled to breathe triggered worldwide protests.
 ?? POOL PHOTO BY JIM LO SCALZO ?? President- elect Joe Biden, Vice President- elect Kamala Harris and their families celebrate in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 7 – three days after Election Day – after results from Pennsylvan­ia put them over the top.
POOL PHOTO BY JIM LO SCALZO President- elect Joe Biden, Vice President- elect Kamala Harris and their families celebrate in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 7 – three days after Election Day – after results from Pennsylvan­ia put them over the top.

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