A recent column by Laura Washington, titled “No Black Agenda on Election Table,” struck a nerve with the African-American community, but particularly with Harriet’s Daughters, who had arranged to meet with Gov. Pat Quinn and candidate Bruce Rauner not long before the column appeared.
The mission of Harriet’s Daughters, a group of professional women, is to work collaboratively with peer organizations to advocate for, create and support policies that secure employment for African-Americans.
Our mission has never been more important. Illinois has the third highest black unemployment rate — more than twice the white unemployment rate. Among black males 16 to 19 years old, the unemployment rate is a shocking 92 percent. In Chicago, the poorest communities are all African-American.
Attempting to get beyond the platitudes, speeches and canned responses, Harriet’s Daughters’ agenda was straightforward and unapologetic when we met with the candidates. We wanted to know what each candidate was going to do about the wholly unacceptable high unemployment rate that disproportionally plagues African-Americans in this city and state.
Harriet’s Daughters does not endorse political candidates. However, we will highlight and bring transparency to the disparities in employment rates for African-Americans, as well as inform our community and policymakers about economic policies and programs that address entrenched inequities that keep us outside the economic mainstream.
After lengthy discussion we, and the candidates, agreed that there is much to be done — especially as it relates to employment for African-Americans. We concluded that each candidate has taken our community for granted and must do more than pledge his commitment to us around election time. However, African-American leaders must be accountable and cannot be divided, scattered and individually motivated to accept the scraps thrown our way. We must demand more accountability from the politicians we choose to represent us.
To this end, we insisted that the billions in contracts that trickle through the government be reflective of our community. Currently, a paltry 1 percent of state spending goes to African-American businesses. We challenged them to raise this to 15 percent.
We discussed increasing African-American representation in state and local government, in the governor’s “kitchen cabinet”, administrative leadership and state-appointed boards, commissions and non-elected bodies that oversee state and local funds. Of particularly concern is the lack of African-Americans on the state’s Executive Ethics Commission. Two of its nine commissioners should be African-American.
We demanded eliminating the use of waivers that give companies a pass on fulfilling diverse vendor requirements and encouraged contracting with companies whose employees are representative of the state and local demographics.
We encouraged reforming current legislation to favor Illinois-based businesses, increasing employment in the state and thus for African-Americans.
We discussed increasing allocations for summer employment, job readiness and mentoring programs. These are just a few of the things we demanded.
Each candidate, of course, pledged to do better, even mentioning percentages and goals reasonably attainable. Harriet’s Daughters plans to hold whomever wins accountable to our agenda. We are inviting others to get on board as well.
Sophia King is president of Harriet’s Daughters. Their website is harrietsdaughters.org.
Source: Chicago SunTimes