I grew up in Baton Rouge at a time that feels very different from the world we know today. In my family, public service was woven into everything we did. We’d sit around the kitchen table and talk about politics at just about every meal. I grew up around people who were aware that you’re supposed to serve. It was a part of my training.
And even as I was developing a love of entertainment, watching legends like Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier light up the stage and screen, I was inspired by their activism as much as their acting.
It helped that my mother was a volunteer driver for the Baton Rouge bus boycott that preceded Montgomery and was an active member of the NAACP, like my aunt, whose name appeared on the longest-running school desegregation suit in the country. And my grandfather was a country doctor whose commitment to serving the community was so great that when patients couldn’t afford his services, he would take produce for payment and do all that he could for free. Because we are all in it together.
In the era of Donald Trump, that kind of thinking can sometimes feel like ancient history. But there’s one candidate in this race who understands the fabric that used to hold American communities like mine together — and can unite our country once again.
For me, that candidate is Vice President Joe Biden, because public service has been the constant in his life too.
Since he first entered the Senate at 29 years-old, through tragedy after tragedy, Joe has never lost sight of his North Star: serving the country he loves.
There’s no moment that better captures his spirit of service than the day he stood at Barack Obama’s side as the Affordable Care Act was signed into law—a victory for Americans that was more than a century in the making.
Because of the ACA, more than 100 million Americans no longer have to worry that their insurance company will deny coverage or charge higher premiums just because they have a pre-existing condition—like cancer, diabetes, heart disease or depression. There are no more annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and young people can now stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26 years old.
However, ever since that historic day, the Republican Party has done everything in its power to undermine these protections. President Trump is running on eliminating them altogether.
That’s why Democrats need to nominate someone who can not only defeat President Trump but build on the Affordable Care Act when he does. Joe has the best plan to do just that. Rather than starting from scratch and getting rid of private insurance, as some Democrats are proposing, Joe would build on the ACA by providing Americans with more choices, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system much more simple to use.
At a time when African-American women are still three times more likely to die in childbirth in the wealthiest country on the planet, we cannot afford to wait to make sure our health care system is not only more effective but more just.
I know this issue is personal to Joe. He has experienced devastating losses in his life, and since he left the White House, he has continued his work to end cancer as we know it. Like his son Beau, my father and aunt succumbed to this dreadful disease, while my mother and another aunt are, thankfully, cancer survivors. More than his spearheading research, he understands that too many Americans lie awake at night, wondering how they will continue to make ends meet if one of their loved ones becomes ill. And just like my grandfather, Joe is committed to making sure no one goes bankrupt because they get sick.
All of our progress on health care, and all the other issues we care about, depend on one thing above all else: our ability to cast our vote. And the long struggle for civil rights and voting rights is what first inspired Joe Biden to run for office. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was an important first step in our nation finally living up to the promise of its founding, but that was only the beginning of the fight. As Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joe successfully led the fight to extend its protections for 25 years in 1982.
This fight is what inspired my family to get involved in game-changing civil rights efforts in our community when I was younger because we could all see Jim Crow was still alive and well in Louisiana. Unfortunately, as we know all too well across the country—and especially in the South—not enough has changed since then. Our hard-won rights have been under constant assault from the Supreme Court on down to state and local election officials.
As president, Joe Biden will stand up to these attacks, and restore the Voting Rights Act, because he understands that every American, no matter what they look like or what zip code they live in, deserves a voice in our democracy. He will make it easier to exercise our sacred right to vote, count every vote equally, and make sure those votes cannot be undermined by anyone aiming to meddle in our political process—whether foreign or domestic.
The right to vote is the right upon which all others depend, but it can only be preserved for as long as we are willing to fight to keep it. So in the face of Donald Trump, and a political system that all too often feels like it’s spiraling out of control, we must hold fast to hope. To that end, there’s a poem that was greatly loved and embodied by my hero, Ruby Dee. In the coming election, I’ll be keeping it in mind:
The world is wrong, let’s right it. The battle is hard, let’s fight it. The road is rough, let’s clear it. The future vast, don’t fear it. Is faith asleep? Let’s wake it. Because today is ours, let’s take it.
I believe that the moment Joe Biden enters the White House, today can be ours once more.
It’s just on us to take it.