America’s three Black Senators spoke personally and candidly about issues including diversity, increasing their numbers, and creating economic opportunities during a dialogue live streamed in social media.
Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tim Scott (R-SC), the only Black members of the United States Senate, held the bipartisan talk in honor of Black History Month.
U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black moderated the discussion, which live streamed on Harris’ Facebook page on Feb. 27. They touched on issues including diversity at both the member and staff level, and a recognition of Black leaders of both past and present.
Black began by announcing as of Jan. 2017, there’d only been 1,970 members of the auspicious club, and only 10 Blacks. Harris, Booker, and Scott were the most the Senate’s had at once, he said.
Increasing opportunity in the Black community was the central theme. They touched on many key subjects such as ways to move it forward.
Black, who has served for over 27 years as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, opened the Q&A by asking who’d inspired each to public service.
Harris, raised as child of the Civil Rights movement, shared among her heroes were Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, influential scholar and attorney Charles Hamilton Houston (who helped dismantle Jim Crow laws), and Constance Baker Motley (Civil Rights activist and federal judge).
“In my family and in the community in which I was raised, there was no question that each of us was expected to serve, be it through our profession or just in terms of our lives,” Harris stated. Prior to the Senate, she served as District Attorney of California and California State Attorney General.
Black asked the group what should be some of the main priorities for the Black community going forward?
Economic independence via investing in opportunities and looking for ways to bring resources back into distressed communities, answered Scott, the first Black person to serve in the Senate from South Carolina. He was also one of two Black senators in the 113th Congress.
Harris agreed, and added, there is no such thing necessarily as an “African American issue. All issues impact Black families, from national security to environmental justice and policy, she stated. But to sure, one of the most pressing issues is that of the economic security and health of the community, Harris said.
“We know that there’s a direct connection between that and the education systems that we offer or don’t offer our communities. We know there’s a connection between those two and what ends up happening in the criminal justice system … There are so many issues that are interconnected,” Harris continued.
As the first Black woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate and only the second Black women to serve as a member, her primary focus is on social justice, she indicated.
Booker noted that many Black communities, such as in New Jersey are rich with spirit and wealthy with character, but the income is $14,000 per individual a year.
Booker, who previously served as Mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013, said his primary focus was always to reduce crime and promote economic opportunities.
Among pressing issues for Booker is the lack of diversity with Blacks in CEO positions, and an over-representation of Blacks in the U.S. prison system.
“We know there’s no difference between Black and Whites, none, in dealing or using drugs, but Blacks will be arrested for it about 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for it,” Booker said.
“In fact, it looks like an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) when you visit one of the prisons,” said Black. He said he’s not a weeper, but he teared up when he visited a federal prison in Florida. “I thought I was at Morehouse or Howard,” he said.
Like Harris, Booker and Scott shared stories of an upbringing that instilled in them principles of service to the community. Naturally, as they developed, they grew into the mentality of being willing to serve, they shared.
For Scott, that inspiration came from an 8th grade teacher, who told him he talked too much in class, and maybe he could take that skill set and work in city council, he recalled.
His first election was in 8th grade. Then, in high school and on the verge of flunking out, a mentor taught him that anyone could make a difference in America through public service.
“It really took hold in my heart,” Scott said.
“I just grew up with a family and extended family whose service wasn’t sort of an add on. It wasn’t something you do every once in a while, but it was integrated as a part of life,” Booker stated.
All three of the lawmakers, as well as the moderator, shared the sentiment that never before has there been as many members of the Black community serving on the U.S. Senate at one time.
That being said, the time is right for them to move their community into a better more positive and more economically stable direction, they agreed.