Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District is sworn in as the 25th chair of the Congressional Black Caucus for the 115th Congress at the Warner Theatre in D.C. on Jan. 3. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District is sworn in as the 25th chair of the Congressional Black Caucus for the 115th Congress at the Warner Theatre in D.C. on Jan. 3. (Travis Riddick/The Washington Informer)

During the ceremonial swearing-in event a few blocks from the White House, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc., honored Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), the new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and caucus members who will serve during the 115th Congress.

A. Shuanise Washington, president and CEO of the CBCF, said that the 115th Congress will have the largest CBC in history with 49 members.

“While the CBC grows in numbers, there remains a lack of diversity and inclusion when it comes to senior staff placement in Senate and congressional offices,” Washington said. “The CBCF is committed to doing its part to change the landscape of Capitol Hill and we’re doing so with one of our newest initiatives: Emerge 535.”

Launched in 2013, the Emerge 535 program will enable the CBCF to expand opportunities for young people of color by providing 535 scholarships and fellowships to work on Capitol Hill.

During her comments at the CBC ceremony, held at the Warner Theatre in Northwest, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) blasted Republican lawmakers for blocking President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court justice nominee and efforts to pass an updated Voting Rights Act.

Pelosi also noted the irony in the fact that some of the same Republicans who attended the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, refused to work with Democrats on Capitol Hill to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

“It’s not about Democrats, it’s not about Republicans, it’s about America,” Pelosi said. “The greatness of America is affected by how [Republicans] have rejected the ability of our president to appoint a [Supreme Court] justice, how they have rejected our calls for correcting the injustice of the Supreme Court decision [in Shelby v. Holder]. It’s all about justice.”

Pelosi called the CBC the “conscience of the Congress and indeed of the country,” adding that it was exciting to see that some of the newest members of the CBC were representing districts who had never elected a black lawmaker to serve in the U.S. Congress.

The newest members of the CBC, all Democrats, are Sen. Kamala Harris, who is California’s first African-American senator, and Reps. Val Demings of Florida, Lisa Blunt-Rochester, the first African-American and woman to serve in Congress from Delaware, Anthony Brown of Maryland, Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania and Donald McEachin of Virginia.

After the ceremonial oath of office was performed, outgoing Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said that 2016 is now in the rearview mirror.

“We find ourselves facing a difficult, political and legislative environment, unlike any that we have ever seen before, but I promise you that the CBC will rise to the occasion and we will meet these new challenges,” Butterfield said. “The consequences are too enormous for us to be indecisive and to allow conservative forces and forces of the alt-right to defend our nation. WE will be strategic and we will be unified in our work.”

While many of the CBC members are baby boomers, Butterfield said that there is no question that Richmond, who is a part of Generation X, is well-suited and well-prepared to lead the CBC in confronting these new challenges.

During his remarks at the swearing-in event, Richmond said that CBC members represent 78 million Americans, 24 percent of the population and 17 million African-Americans.

“There are many Americans, especially black Americans, who can’t understand how we got here today, coming off eight years of hope, pride and inspiration,” Richmond said. “They are fearful of the current state of division, hate and pettiness.

“Many of our young people are frustrated with the fact that they seem to be fighting the same causes that Dr. King and Rev. Jackson and John Lewis and many others galvanized the country behind during the civil rights movement, and that’s jobs, justice and common humanity,” he said.

The Louisiana congressman noted that while others have thrown up their hands and hung their heads, paralyzed by frustration, CBC members have remained focused and driven.

Richmond acknowledged that members such as Shirley Chisholm work on poverty and expanding opportunities for women in the labor force and children in the classroom, Charlie Rangel on economic inequality and John Conyers on criminal justice reform.

Richmond said that the CBC members are committed to do their part, to provide leadership, engage the people across this country and fight shoulder to shoulder to ensure that the arc, but they cannot do it alone.

“We need the fire, passion and talent of young people to use the tools and resources of today to capture the nation and to give life to our movement,” said Richmond, adding that it was young women and men who were on the front lines of the fight for freedom during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Richmond said that fighting injustice will also require the wisdom, clarity and foresight of our elders, because “if we do not learn from our past, our future will be more of the same.”

The new CBC chair said that during 115th Congressional session, caucus members will continue to confront those who seek to divide the country and that they will be clear about their demands, on behalf of black people. He added that CBC members will also venture outside of Washington to engage everyday people where they live, work and worship.

“We will heed the many lessons of our leaders that came before, but we will innovate and evolve to tackle the challenges of today,” Richmond said. “We will be deliberate in our thoughts and actions and we will engage on our own terms.

“We have the strength and the courage of our ancestors that survived the Middle Passage, who survived slavery and segregation and Jim Crow, and in that spirit we won’t give in, we won’t give up and we won’t fall back,” he said.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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