[Opinion Editorial by Rep. Shevrin Jones]
The 2020 Democratic presidential contenders recently descended on Miami for the first primary debates, though the vast field only scratched the surface in discussing our society’s systemic inequities and injustices in a real way. While the fact that the deck is stacked against millions of Americans is already part of many candidates’ rhetoric, we must get beyond just the slick, poll-tested talking points.
The pain is particularly felt in Black communities that are asked to make due with nothing. From housing and employment discrimination, to the state of public education and disparities in maternal healthcare, our society has failed millions of people across this country.
Our young men are treated like a commodity in the broken criminal justice system. We must eliminate laws that place Black and brown people in jail for petty crimes and do nothing more than clog the system.
When it comes to education, we’ve stripped access to opportunity away from our kids, and as both a product of public schools and a former educator, this hits particularly close to home. State and federal lawmakers take away funding for neighborhood public schools and after-school programs. Meanwhile, the political will to tackle gun violence and make our schools and communities safer is nonexistent.
In May, Florida’s legislative session concluded, and once again, injected the Sunshine State into the center of the national conversation. The Republican majority passed a controversial law to arm teachers, putting students in harm’s way. As the bill gained steam in the legislature, I introduced an amendment to require any educators undergo implicit bias training, knowing full well the potentially harmful consequences of this bill for students of color. The amendment was not even given a vote.
The same happens everyday in state legislatures nationwide and in Washington. The very discussion of how we can empower and create opportunity for all Americans is considered “off limits.”
For how long will we ask our people to just accept the obstacles placed before us? By perpetuating the barriers facing African Americans, we’ve told millions of young girls and boys that their futures don’t matter. We’ve told the brave men and women of color who have served our country with dignity and honor that they are not worthy of employment or housing when they return. We’ve told Black entrepreneurs that their bold ideas are worth less. We’ve told mothers that their lives or those of their children are not valued.
It will take deep structural change to shift course. It will be up to each of us to demand as much.
State Representative Shevrin Jones represents Florida’s 101st House District, which includes several communities in Broward County, and is Executive Director of Florida Reading Corps, a former AP Chemistry teacher, and Founder of LEAD Nation, one of South Florida’s top youth organizations for leadership development training.