Experts discussed issues, opportunities and advice for black Americans during this year’s Brookings Institution year of the Black History Month program. The event, “Transcending and Thriving: Civil Rights in Black America,” took place practically on February 13 and was led by the think tank’s Governance Studies program.
The panelists spoke in the program: Dr. Camille Busette, interim vice president of Brookings Governance Studies; Dr. Keon L. Gilbert, David M. Rubenstein Fellow; Dr. Nicol Turner Lee, Director of the Center for Technological Innovation; Yvette Badu-Nimako, Vice President of Policy, National Urban League; and Nicole Austin-Hillery, president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Several key topics were discussed, including voting rights and guidance as the nation approaches the 2024 presidential election.
“Since 2013, voting rights have been under even greater attack than they have been in the last 20 to 30 years, when the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act,” Austin-Hillery said. “And since then, we’ve seen many states attack voting rights as state legislatures try to introduce new election laws and regulations that frankly make it harder for people to vote. And that fell mostly on black and brown communities and poor communities.
Although she noted that voter awareness and engagement are at their best in decades, Austin-Hillery advised voters to stay diligent and get more people out to vote, saying voter participation remains a key issue.
“If you’re not aware of the changes that are pending approval and the changes that have been codified in your local jurisdiction, you could be in trouble,” Austin-Hillery said. “One day you may find yourself at a poll and think you are going to cast your vote and be stopped for one reason or another because you were unable to comply with these new rules and regulations. “
Police officers, the panelists noted, also remain a problem amid tragedies like the recent killing of Ty Nichols.
“We’re seeing some really exciting new response models in states that really recognize what the president said in his State of the Union address last week, that we expect the police to be mental health professionals, social workers and medical professionals,” Badu – Nimako said . “And we’re seeing these new models of alternative response that are really designed to reduce fatal police encounters and to limit the scope of what police are supposed to do in our society.”
At the federal level, President Joe Biden’s police executive order issued last summer still had parts that needed to be implemented, Badu-Nimako said. But nothing can replace comprehensive federal police reform, she said.
Austin-Hillery advocated greater community involvement in determining policing.
“We want communities that are safe but that also respect us and that also give us a voice and put us first, not as politicians, not as policy makers, but that put what the people in those communities want and feel they need ,” said Austin-Hillery said, “We have to make sure that we’re bringing community voices into these policy discussions. That’s where it has to start. Because then, that’s when you build camaraderie, inclusion, and make sure that these principles that we’re talking about are not these erudite stuff, but it’s stuff that people really say they work with in their communities and need to feel safe and make sure they have the right relationships with the police and the policy makers who are making the decisions that they impact their lives on a daily basis.”
In terms of public health, Gilbert said life expectancy has decreased, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He suggested that more resources should be devoted to community strategies and that different stakeholders not normally associated with playing a role in health, such as businesses, should also be involved.
“Many communities are realizing that they play a very important role in addressing their health. And I think it’s important for us to provide the resources,” Gilbert said. “I think the Biden administration has some specific strategies or tools that can help with that in terms of making sure we reach out to communities — whether it’s churches, barbershops, local community centers, other community organizations. Even neighborhood associations are also very aware of what their specific role can be in promoting health.”
In the digital realm, black Americans continue to lag behind, and this digital divide affects people in very real ways, from education to health care, Turner Lee said.
“We’re in a communications ecosystem today that suffers from only a digital divide, but lacks depth in terms of media ownership by black Americans in this country,” Turner Lee said. Less than 3% of African-Americans in this country hold major roles in tech companies, which continue to define and redefine and misinform many of these messages.
“We have a gap in our communication ecosystem that allows this messaging, this new contemporary assault on our narrative to really happen, which I think is worth talking about when you start looking at the digital divide. … We also prevented black people from being able to get online and do the things that ordinary Americans do.”
And the digital divide can also affect how people can engage in their democracy, Turner Lee said.
“This is the divide that really defines a first-class stay in a digital democracy,” said Turner Lee, “the ability to know where your polling place is, the ability to know more about the candidates…, the ability to pick up your phone and record rogue cops and post them , so people can actually see you, and the ability to share messages that validate full experiences.”
It’s important to keep in mind the interconnectedness of all these issues, Austin-Hillery said, urging people to focus on the bigger picture.
“These issues are not silenced issues,” Austin-Hillery said. “When you’re talking about civil and human rights and racial justice, you have to understand that all of these issues are interconnected. . . . We can’t afford to say we specialize.” in one racial injustice over another. We have to understand that there are a number of problems and all the dots are connected… We don’t have time to work on one problem at a time. I know it’s work, but we have to pay attention to the full price.”