“Tell your stories because your story is your glory, in it is your truth.” ~ Delegate Walker
[Original Posting] Feb. 16, 2022 at 6:48 p.m. GMT-5 — Updated Feb. 17, 2022 at 11:41 a.m. GMT-5
LINK TO ORIGINAL POST
By Haadiza Ogwude
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action,” said Martin Luther King Jr. during his famous “I Have A Dream Speech” on Aug. 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
These wise words, quoted by Rev. Marcia Dinkins, director of Black Women Rising and Black Appalachia Coalition, embodied the ethos of Black Policy Day. This all-day event focused on policy issues that impact Black West Virginians. Black Policy Day was held at the state capitol on Friday and was hosted by Black By God The West Virginian, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., WV Black Voter Impact Initiative, and Call To Action For Racial Equality.
Black Policy Day kicked off with a webinar on Thursday evening titled “Young, Gifted and Black.” The webinar was hosted by Crystal Good, Founder of Black By God, and Dr. Shanequa Smith, WV Black Voters Impact Initiative and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. The webinar featured ten young Black speakers working in public policy who expressed their thoughts on increasing civic engagement amongst Black youth in West Virginia.
On Friday morning, the day-of-action continued with a Black Policy Breakfast at the Four Points by Sheraton in Charleston, WV. Dinkins led participants in prayer and gave opening remarks that motivated and encouraged attendees to take action to ensure that the voices of Black West Virginians were heard.
“I stand with you all today to say now is the time to step into your new version, tell your new story, and tell your old stories as well so that what? We can be liberated, so that we can captivate the hearts of our children, we can captivate the hearts of our communities,” Dinkins exclaimed.
This message of socio-political change through community action echoed throughout the rest of the day. The Black Policy Breakfast, which lasted from 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., was hosted by Jacqueline Proctor, a former Disney and ABC-TV executive. The breakfast also included a panel of eight policy leaders: Rebekah Aranda, WV NAACP; Dijon Stokes, WV American Civil Liberties Union; Crystal Allen, WV Family of Convicted People; Kathy Ferguson, Our Future West Virginia; Seth Distefano, WV Center on Budget and Policy; Jessie Ice, West Virginians For Affordable Health Care; Charkera Ervin, Our Future West Virginia; and Pastor Matthew J. Watts, Grace Bible Church and Tuesday Morning Group. The leaders discussed general topics of importance to Black West Virginians, such as education censorship, voting rights, criminal justice reform, environmental racism, personal income tax, health equity, ant-hair discrimination, and the covid-19 pandemic. The leaders also discussed numerous bills that would impact the Black community of West Virginia and resources for political engagement.
After breakfast, community members, lawmakers, and activists gathered in the Lower Rotunda of the Capitol at 9:00 a.m., where stations were set up to educate individuals on different advocacy organizations, policies, lobbying strategies, and more. During this portion of the day, individuals had the opportunity to meet with representatives and tour the capitol building. Attendees also had the chance to participate in a press conference that featured various speakers who shared their experience and expertise on policy issues impacting Black West Virginians. These speakers included: Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia; Adeoye Owolewa, U.S. shadow representative District of Columbia; Yvonne Lee-Long, a voter-engagement organizer at Fairness West Virginia, adjunct professor at West Virginia State University, and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.; Darryl Clausell, President of the West Virginia NAACP; and Pastor Matthew J. Watts, of Grace Bible Church and member of the Tuesday Morning Group. The speakers shared why Black West Virginians must participate in the policy-making process.
Walker specifically discussed the importance of collective action and the amplification of Black stories and Black voices. Walker also addressed the need for critical race education in the public school system.
“Tell your stories because your story is your glory, in it is your truth,” Walker stated.
In an interview, Lee-Long discussed the importance of Black Policy Day and how events such as this can help Black youth in West Virginia to become more civically and politically engaged.
“I’m a collegiate advisor. I teach at a college level. Our future is young West Virginia, and if we do not get them involved now, we will not be able to secure a place in our future,” Lee-Long explained.
Smith also discussed the importance of Black Policy day and the role of Black media, specifically Black By God, in strengthening political engagement in the Black community.
“A lot of times, our stories are told from an external perspective. So this [Black By God] has given us our voice and let us know we could speak for ourselves and no one else has to speak for us,” Smith said.
Watts also discussed the essential role that Black By God plays in educating and rallying Black West Virginians, stating, “I think, really what’s critically important, what’s new that we haven’t had consistently in the past, is the Black By God newspaper publication with Sister Crystal Good. I think that that may be one of the most important and critical tools that we have moving forward…To have some of the best writers and policymakers and thought leaders in the state writing for their publication and trying to saturate our communities with it, we got to educate them ourselves, right, with the methods that we have?”
Black Policy Day continued with a luncheon in the governor’s conference room. Several attendees reflected on the day’s events thus far and furthered the discussion on public policy and the Black community.
Then the day-of-action concluded with a rally for The CROWN Act held in the Lower Rotunda of the capitol. The rally included food, music, and speeches by lawmakers, representatives from advocacy organizations, and individuals who have experienced hair discrimination. Veronica Clay-Bunch, the mother of a St. Alban’s High School student who faced hair discrimination by her competition cheerleading squad, spoke on the urgency of passing this proposed law.
“We do what we can do with what we got. And we should never ever be discriminated against or ever penalized for not being able to do exactly what someone else says the standards of right is right. Let me be me, let me do me, let me have my day. If I earned it, then I want it. That’s what I feel like my child did on that day, she earned it, and therefore I was not backing down. And I really feel like the CROWN act will protect everybody, whoever has an issue, so that way this never, ever happens to a child or anyone again,” Clay-Bunch said.
Black Policy Day ended at 4:00 p.m. on Friday. However, organizers of the event hope that the spirit of the day will resonate with participants long past the conclusion of Friday’s activities and will be a catalyst for further engagement and community organization.
“I hope that they [particpants] take away voting plus action equals power and that we have a responsibility to become more active politically… We cannot expect no one to be our voice. We got to be our own voice. So I hope something initiated in people so they start getting more inquisitive. We start talking about legislative season, like Christmas season, because that’s how we need to start thinking about it and just learn how to get active. And I think most importantly, we have to be collective,” Smith said.
Senator Owens Brown, D-Ohio, said that his biggest takeaway from Black Policy Day is the importance of unification amongst Black West Virginians when it comes to political action. Browns said that we all have a responsibility to act as “ambassadors to our community.”
“We as a people, when we unite together, we can get a lot done. And we need this type of communication, unity in a community. We had pastors, we had sororities, we had the NAACP, then this group, that group coming together as one force, and people see that, and that’s a very positive thing,” Brown stated.