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Legislative Black Caucus highlights agenda to close state’s racial wealth gap

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Sonya Harper Black Caucus

CHICAGO, Ill. - Access, equity, and opportunity. Those are the three goals Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members hope to reach by reforming the state's economy.

Lawmakers note the majority of issues for Black Illinoisans tie back to the economy. Now, they're working toward fair wages for Black workers and giving Black business owners the tools to succeed and compete in the marketplace.

"Since the end of slavery, Black people across the nation have not seen the economic mobility that others have benefitted from due to racism and prejudice, as well as other unjust policies and tainted long-held beliefs," Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) said.

Harper also feels Black people should no longer be considered or treated as a commodity or just consumers. She emphasized Black business owners can be partners in the country's economy with equal access to opportunities.

Addressing housing inequity

Lawmakers also stress Illinois needs to eliminate housing discrimination and land use regulations in urban areas.

"A land use system or any system for that matter cannot fail those who it was never designed to protect," Rep. Andre Thapedi (D-Chicago) explained.

He said the caucus plans to file bills aimed at providing affordable clean and safe housing. They also hope to create new finance mechanisms for Black people to build homes and businesses.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford said caucus members hope to create a commission on equity and inclusion. She said the group could oversee Illinois' procurement process and provide accountability. In addition, Lightford emphasized they expect to see results helping communities most in need.

"I do not know how we expect anyone else to support our minority businesses if we as a state are not investing in their growth to back up our own words and commitment," added Lightford.

Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago) wants the state to break down barriers that continue to limit Black men and women from success. "We will oversee a process until no person in Illinois is denied economic access and equity due to its race or its ethnicity," Lilly said.

Support from legislative leaders

While lawmakers have spent several weeks discussing other pillars of the agenda (criminal justice reform and education), the biggest challenge will come during veto session. Gov. JB Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon, and House Speaker Mike Madigan have each signaled support for the effort.

"They’re all being held accountable for the support they said they were going to lend to this initiative," Lightford said. However, caucus members know they'll also need support from colleagues in both chambers to enact significant changes. Several lawmakers have joined virtual hearings to learn about the issues Black and brown communities face each day.

Still, Lightford emphasized they'll need everyone's support to rid the state of systemic racism.

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Mike Miletich

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