The Congressional Black Caucus kicked off its first-ever visit to Massachusetts Friday evening with elected leaders from across the country articulating some of the nation’s most dire problems of institutional racism.
A press conference at Northeastern University’s John D. O’Bryant African American Institute was a precursor to caucus events throughout Representative Ayanna Pressley’s 7th Congressional district this weekend that are aimed at discussing and wrangling with systemic discrimination.
The caucus’s visit is part of the group’s “Black State of America” series and will include discussions focusing on economic justice, criminal legal reform, and education equity.
Pressley, who in 2018 became the first black woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress, said at the press conference that “at a time when black people are disproportionately paid less and arrested more, activism is not an option.”
“It is a mandate,” she said. “It is the expectation of the electorate.”
Pressley, a Democrat, called the caucus “the conscience of the Congress” and said they were fighting for the most vulnerable. She lamented a lack of reliable and convenient public transit for “black Boston” and said a lack of generational wealth has driven black people to take out private student loans.
“We know that when the rest of America gets a cold, black folks get pneumonia,” she said.
The best policies, she said, are data-driven and the data “are the lived experiences of the people.”
“We are here to hear from them,” she said.
She referred to her district as one of the most diverse areas in the country, but also one of the most unequal.
Representative Gwen Moore, the first black person elected to Congress from Wisconsin, said that black people want “criminal justice reform and justice and fairness,” while Pressley said she did not think that mass incarceration has made the country safer.
“We’ve had institutional racism, it’s not just someone, you know, shouting out the n-word or denying you a job,” said Moore.
Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, spoke of the importance of recognizing that a disproportionate number of black people are living below the poverty line, facing homelessness, and suffered under the subprime loan crisis.
“When you look at all these issues, then you have to say what is this that creates all these disparities,” she said. “Race is a factor in all of these disparities.”
“We all know that slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and institutional racism have made the state of black America unequal and we must continue to work to address these systemic barriers and inequalities,” Lee said.
The caucus will host an education town hall on Saturday that tackles discriminatory school discipline policies that contribute to a “school pushout crisis.”
Lee said 40 percent of African-American children in preschool are being expelled.
“How do you expel kids in preschool?” she asked.
Lee added, “That begins this pipeline to prison, and so we have to crack that pipeline.”
The caucus also has a forum on black and brown economic mobility slated for Saturday.