We Always Talk About Black Votes, But We Need More Black Policy

While in recent times heavy focus has been on Black voters, Black to the Future Public Policy Institute is creating tools for Black power.

The Black to the Future Public Policy Institute kicked off its 2022-2023 cohort of 19 Black leaders across the United States that they’ve selected to help create positive change in Black communities.

Institute Principal and Black Lives Matter Co-founder Alicia Garza speaks to the potential of the initiative in a recent press release: “As part of our work, we are committed to training Black leaders to rewrite the rules that hold our communities back. These courageous and visionary fellows make me excited and hopeful about change.”

Founded in 2021 by parent organizations Black Futures Lab and Black To The Future Action Fund, “The Institute is a policy advocacy and leadership training fellowship that provides the tools needed to transform Black communities into constituencies that wield independent, Black political power.”

During the eight-month program, fellows will work in teams, collaborating with Institute staff and guest speakers, in addition to one-on-one mentorship from policy experts. Sessions will cover topics ranging from the policy-making process to building political power, along with in-depth research and analysis on the key issue areas of democracy and voting rights, the economy and economic security, families, public health and healthcare, structural barriers and the criminal-legal system.

Tackling these topics seems complex, and there’s the uphill battle of structural racism in America. But organizations like the Black Futures Lab have proven to be well-suited in setting a new precedent for Black realities across America. Founded in 2018 by the same minds behind the Institute, the Black Futures Lab works “to develop strategies that help Black people imagine the political, social, and economic alternatives needed at the local, state, and federal level, while also building the political power needed to implement those alternatives.”

This bilateral approach kicked off with the Black Census Project in 2018, where the Lab tapped various channels of outreach to earnestly speak with members of the Black community about the issues truly seen as important, their mindset, and what solutions they hope to see. After collecting and learning from the tens of thousands of responses, they published detailed reports of their findings in areas of Gender and Politics, LGBT+ Rights, and Politics and Power.

Reflecting on the Census data results, Garza told the New York Times, “The most important issues for respondents were also the most important issues facing the rest of the country — low wages, lack of quality health care, substandard housing, rising college costs and different sets of rules for the wealthy and the poor. Of course, a majority of Americans face these difficulties. But black communities experience them more acutely.” She continues, “The truth is, if candidates address the needs and concerns of black communities, it will result in dividends for all Americans.” The Black Futures Lab has begun collecting data for its latest 2022 iteration. You can take the 10-minute survey and ensure that your Black voice is heard here.

Alumni of the fellowship have already improved conditions in their respective communities. Members of the Florida team helped to put a rent stabilization ordinance on this November’s ballot in Orange County, FL, which voters approved by a wide margin. The New York coalition helped pass the Clean Slate Act through one house of the state legislature, “advancing the argument to seal conviction rates in the state.” Further, Nebraska-based advocacy organization I Be Black Girl worked to pass LB 451, prohibiting discrimination towards employees and applicants “on the basis of hair texture and hairstyles historically associated with race.”

This progress will not be lost on this year’s cohort, made up of a diverse group of leaders focusing on varying areas of Black life. To name a few, Dynasty Chapman and Gloria Hollins seek to eliminate barriers to the ballot box and restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated people in Alabama, while Najeebah Brown, Eliana Green, and Venus Ischei aim to eliminate financial barriers for legacy operators working in the legal cannabis industry in New York.

Each of these policy areas are nuanced and require a distinct approach when working towards a solution. However, what links them all are the united minds doing the work, sharing an unwavering passion for Black political power wielded through organized action.

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