Black History Month is time to recognize the Black experience as an integral part of American history. As one of the founding Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, I was very happy to celebrate when President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized the Black History Month in 1976. Since then, I have proudly joined millions of Americans every year to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of black pioneers who have made our country come closer to achieving Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a more equal nation.
This year we’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as the nation will honor countless courageous advocates and organizations that fought hard to pass and execute the historic legislation – including my dear friend and Colleague, Rep. John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, NAACP, National Urban League, the Congress for Racial Equality, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who inspired me to march 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, to stand up for the Voting Rights Act.
Since the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks have reached high places in every sector of our society, including the Highest Office in the Nation held by President Barack Obama. Yet there is still much work to be done to make further advancements: in education and science, Black students still fall behind in college graduation rates and only make up 7 percent of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) bachelor’s degrees; in justice, Blacks constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population in America; in economic opportunities, the Black unemployment rate is 12.1 percent, almost doubling the national unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.
During Black History Month, we must be reminded that our fight for equality includes economic justice for all. We must keep fighting to build a society without hunger and hatred, to ensure equal pay for working women, extend unemployment insurance, protect voting rights and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), raise the minimum wage, and pass a comprehensive immigration reform. In Congress, as I have done since I first came in 1971, I will continue fighting to provide opportunities for everyone to succeed and achieve the American Dream.