Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity to be here with my colleagues.
I am so humbled and honored to be with the gentlewoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio, who is an example to us freshman, and who fights along with the gentleman of New York, Hakeem Jeffries, not just for the people of their district, and not just for African Americans, but for all Americans. Because that is what we are here in this congress to do.
By pointing out the inequalities it’s not to cast dispersions to all of America, but to make us to be better people than what we are today. When Dr. King so eloquently delivered his “I have a Dream” speech, 50 years ago, he did so with every hope and expectation that this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of that creed. He hoped the tenant, all men are created equal, and would in fact one day be a truth held self-evident.
We cannot allow simply moving past the glaring bigotry’s of Jim-Crow however, to be a benchmark for success. Doing so would ignore the more subtle bigotries that continue today. These subtle bigotries are in fact deeply rooted and extreme in their effect of those glaring bigotries doctor king and so many others fought vigorously and valiantly to overcome.
We are still achieving the dream. Today it’s not just social injustice, but also extreme inequality that can strain economic ability for the African American community, and therefore for all of America. Whether its state sanctioned attempts to roll back voting rights in Alabama, the outright denial of equal voting rights to citizens living in the Virgin Islands and other territories, or the years of neglect that have led to the poisoning of residents in Flint, Michigan.
The persistent wealth and opportunity divide in this country, is rooted in the legacy of racial discrimination dating back to reconstruction and to slavery indeed. Although we have achieved much since the days of separate but equal, there’s still structural barriers to achieving the American dream, for too many minority families in this country. There’s racial disparity in nearly every index of the American dream, and those disparities place families of color further behind their plight to achieving the dream.
A recent study by the corporation for enterprise development shows that families of color are two times more likely to live below the federal poverty level, almost two times more likely to lack liquid savings and significantly more likely to have subprime credit scores. A lack of liquid savings among families of color, often lends to further disparity, and wealth loss, as evidenced by the portion of student debt by race and ethnicity. African American college students rely more on student loans to pay for college, than do other racial groups, and are less likely to pay off the debt according to a report by Wisconsin Hope Lab.
While unemployment in this country has fallen to 5%, African American communities like my home district of the US Virgin Islands, continues to experience double digit unemployment rates. Many of these communities of color have experienced decades of systematic divestment of funding and resources that can only serve to widen the wealth and opportunity gap. That’s benign neglect. Benign neglect of failing public and alternative education systems, crumbling infrastructure, and in some case, the slide to bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy not just due to mismanagement and corruption, which is the convenient answer, but a systematic lack of support and adequate funding, which causes places like Detroit, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to mortgage their children’s futures, and bonds to make ends meet.
African Americans make up 13% of the population, but have only 2.7% of total wealth. This congress has within its power to reverse the years of benign neglect to these communities, through supporting legislation, to invest in infrastructure and education.
Through fighting against voter suppression effort, and supporting student loans and other finance reforms. Closing the wealth and opportunity gap should not be a dream in post-racial America. It is a responsibility of this congress to uphold the principles to which we were founded. To not only adhere to those powerful words that preamble our constitution, but also to provide for the general welfare and ensure the justice, liberty and prosperity are afforded to all, and not just some.
With that, I yield back to the gentlewoman from Ohio.
Speech from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9U-ylgRIgB4.