Black History Month is a great opportunity to reflect on the contributions of African-Americans to help make America the beacon of hope that it is. But while the accomplishments of African-Americans may be amplified during this one month, we feel the impact in our everyday lives.
Whether visiting our relatives in the hospital after a successful blood transfusion, waiting in traffic at a stoplight or watching our president speak from the Rose Garden, the contributions of black Americans are ingrained in our nation’s DNA.
The progress that has been made, just in the time that I have been in public service, to ensure diversity, equality and social justice in our nation is a testament to America’s greatness. I worked hard during my time in local politics in Nevada to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry. I backed affirmative action in federal contracting and sharply criticized the Supreme Court when they turned Brown v. Board on its head and ruled against cities’ efforts to diversify their schools. On Capitol Hill, I have done my best to lead by example. My office partners with Howard University for an internship program every semester that encourages young people to get interested in public service. I have created an initiative to improve staff diversity of the United States Senate. These commitments that I’ve made are more than just a laundry list of what I’ve done – they reflect who I am and what I believe in.
While the progress we’ve made together as a nation is laudable, those of us who’ve been on the frontlines know that much work still lies ahead of us. Like all communities, the African-American community is concerned with ensuring security and stability for themselves and their families. African-Americans, just like all Americans, want to have a steady job that they can depend on, stay in their homes, afford quality health care for themselves and their children, have the ability to send their children to the best schools, know that they’re safe in their homes and communities and are able to plan for retirement. These ideals and hopes for a stable life are not unique to African-Americans—but some of the challenges in ensuring them are.
That’s why Senate Democrats have remained committed to addressing these challenges to the African-American community. But more than just address these problems, we have set out to empower the African-American community economically – creating a system that fosters social mobility. The progress made last year alone is noteworthy. Senate Democrats supported legislation to jumpstart job creation for African Americans struggling to regain employment and stabilize the housing market by preventing foreclosures and improving access to home loans for African Americans. We’ve also secured health care for African American children and helped to make college more affordable for African American students – namely our work to increase Pell Grants. In addition, African-Americans have benefited from the consumer protections we’ve enacted to stop unfair and abusive credit card industry practices.
In the social justice sphere, we passed a hate crimes bill last fall that is, in part, named for James Byrd, the African-American man from Texas who lost his life to a vicious hate crime. I also understand the importance of the difficult, but meaningful step the Senate took last year to formally apologize for centuries of racial discrimination and segregation of African Americans. This apology was one in a long line of steps to help rebuild the trust for government within the black community.
When I won my first election in 1966, I don’t know if anyone in our country could imagine that less than a half century later we would elect America’s first African-American president. The ascendance of Barack Obama to the highest office in this land is a source of great pride for our country. His election is an example that all things are possible in this great land that we love.
That’s the power of America. And the African-American community is as responsible as any other community for helping America evolve into the strong, unified nation that we are today. This nation owes a debt of gratitude to its African-American community for keeping the faith in our union through the mistakes of the past.