Black ExperienceHamil R. HarrisNational

Black Women Making Presence Felt on Capitol Hill

Empowered by a record 55 members on Capitol Hill, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus has teamed up with a coalition of civil rights groups to mobilize African Americans across the country behind a progressive legislative agenda to write a new chapter of American history being led by women and people of color.

When she was sworn in as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said the occasion marked the beginning of “correcting the trauma that we have all experienced on a daily basis for the last two years,” and on March 14, Bass met with her female colleagues and a group of civil rights activists to talk about that effort.

“Women are confronting the discrimination that represents the intersectionality of being black and being a woman,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), one several CBC members who spoke at the event about their legislative priorities. “We stand up for Voting Rights and the re-enfranchisement of individuals who have paid their debt to society. We stand up for social justice and compressive criminal justice reform.”

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), a member of the House Appropriation’s Committee, said “we are in a fight to close the wage gap,” while Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said with the record number of African Americans and women in Congress, she is constantly reminded that “it is African-American women who will help us to regain the soul of America.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said that after years of trying in vain to get any type of gun control legislation through Congress, it might finally happen this year.

“It’s our time for change and we are mobilizing through your efforts, Sister Melanie — Black American women across the country,” Jackson-Lee said to Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and National Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable.

Campbell, whose organization is dedicated to organizing voters and fighting against voter suppression, said, “We are determined to make sure that we save our Democracy from peril.”

Echoing those sentiments were a number of speakers from across the country.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the time is now to “hold corrupt officials accountable who take actions to harm voters,” and Cassandra Welchlin, co-convener and lead organizer of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, said poor women are dying because of federal cutbacks.

Welchlin spoke of Shateria Sade Shoemaker, a young mother in Houston, Mississippi, who Welchlin said died after an asthma attack because the emergency room at the nearest hospital to her home had been closed because of Medicaid cutbacks.

“She called 911 and the [emergency room] at the hospital that was eight minutes away had closed and the closest hospital was 30 minutes away,” Welchlin said. “It’s criminal. Shateria Sade Shoemaker died. She had an asthma attack. Why did the hospital close? We need Congress to pass and fund the budget for safety net programs.”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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