by D. Kevin McNeir The Washington Informer/NNPA Member
The changing of the guard in Washington, D.C. continues as U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (LA -02) is sworn as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) chairman for the 115th Congress.
Outgoing CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield both commended and encouraged Richmond.
“We have much work ahead of us during the 115th Congress and I am confident Rep. Richmond will provide strong leadership on the issues we champion to ensure all Americans have an equal and equitable opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Butterfield said.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus represent 78 million Americans—about 24 percent of population, and 17 million African-Americans or roughly 41 percent of the African American population- in different parts of the country–urban centers, suburban neighborhoods, and rural counties.
Other new CBC leaders include: André Carson (IN-07), 1st vice chair; Karen Bass (CA-37), 2nd vice chair; Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), secretary; and Gwen Moore (WI-04), the CBC whip.
Richmond, 43, born and raised in New Orleans, is a graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and currently serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on the Judiciary. A staunch believer in the value of mentorship, he earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his Juris Doctorate from the Tulane University of Law in New Orleans.
He’s also a graduate of the Harvard University Executive Education Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Richmond said that in his role as the new chairman, the Caucus will continue to do what it’s done since its inception in 1971.
“We will carry the mantle and arms for the African-American community, for people of color, in terms of fighting for equality and against discrimination wherever it’s found,” Richmond said.
Richmond continued: “This isn’t the first time we’ve had a Republican-dominated House and Senate and a Republican in the White House all at the same time. But it is the first time we’ve had such an unconventional president like Donald Trump. But that’s not something that causes us great concern.
We realize that many who support the President-elect don’t hold equality and anti-discrimination among their priorities. Still, we’re going to keep on fighting for economic equality and for upward mobility for working people. Our biggest and most important task is to improve the landscape so people are able to make their lives better.”
U.S. Rep. Richmond has wasted no time jumping into his role as the CBC’s leader, recently joining fellow CBC members U.S. Rep John Lewis (GA-05) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ),to testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for Attorney General.
In his testimony, Rep. Richmond made the case that the confirmation of Sen. Sessions for the top role in the Justice Department would be disproportionately harmful to African-Americans with respect to voting rights and criminal justice reform:
“Jeff Sessions has demonstrated a total disregard for the equal application of justice and protection of the law as it applies to African-Americans and falls short on so many issues,” Richmond said. “If you vote to confirm Senator Sessions, you take ownership of everything he may do or not do in office. He has no track record of fighting for justice for minorities, despite the characterizations you have heard from others today.”
Richmond pointed to the state of Black America using his hometown of New Orleans for illustrative purposes.
“We applaud the fact that under the Obama Administration, 14.5 million jobs have been created, but we still need to maintain our focus,” he said. “In New Orleans, the African-American male unemployment rate is 50 percent. That’s 50 percent versus the U.S. unemployment rate of 5 percent. Those differences are more than enough for us to be gravely concerned and a problem we simply cannot ignore.”
When asked about the morale of the CBC in light of the “surprising” defeat of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, Richmond said, “We’re resolved to fight for what’s important.”
The Louisiana lawmaker continued: “It’s never been easy for the CBC — and that’s whether the president has been Black, White, Democrat or Republican. We take our jobs seriously — now more than ever we must be unified, determined and unwilling and unable to be swayed. For lack of a better description, an unconventional, borderline bully has won the presidency. Now other bullies seem to feel like it’s okay to follow suit. Our country has become more intolerant; we’re determined to fight against that and them.”
And in an exclusive with The New Orleans Tribune shortly before the election last November, Rep. Richmond predicted that if Trump won, “you will see Democrats to fight from day one.”
During that interview, he also went on to say that discourse and solutions on key matters such education, economic development, minimum wage, and equal pay, will have to take place at all levels of government—from city councils, to state legislatures to the federal government.
“The next eight years are going to be very important to what this city looks like,” Richmond said of New Orleans. “What we have to focus on is how we make our economic development reach into the middle of the city.”
Richmond pointed to other priorities, as the new leadership prepares to take over at the CBC including education, criminal justice and economics.
He gave a hint as to how he intends to tackle his new job.
“We have had some outstanding leaders representing the CBC during my time in Congress,” he said. “Butterfield, Cleaver, Fudge all had different leadership styles. Mine isn’t like any of theirs. First, we’re going to develop an agenda during the first quarter of 2017. And I’m going to make sure we continue the fight that our previous chairpersons have started and led. We’re going to take advantage of the progress they’ve made.”
The Washington Informer is a member publication of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
New Orleans Tribune staff writers contributed to this report.