As Black History Month comes to a close, I believe that we need to reflect on where we are as a Commonwealth and a nation. I am proud to share a slice of black history as the first African American woman elected to represent Northern Virginia in the General Assembly as well as the first woman to serve as Democratic Whip in Richmond. I am honored to support America’s first African American president, who is working hard to rebuild the American economy and create jobs in every community.
While Republicans in the General Assembly in Richmond are focused on extreme social issues and are rolling back the hands of time to make it more difficult to vote, Virginians are lucky to have a strong advocate in President Obama. He is committed to lifting up all communities, restoring middle class security, and ensuring that everyone gets a shot at the American dream. We have all benefitted from an economy where everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules.
I came to Richmond this year with the goal of doing at the state level what President Obama has been fighting for in Washington — helping small business and students. I introduced a bill, HB191, which creates an incentive for small businesses to create new jobs by hiring recent graduates of public colleges or universities. Instead, Republicans in Richmond have prioritized invasive medical procedures for women and talking about their own sex lives.
The 18 small business tax cuts that the President passed put money back in the pockets of nearly two million African American business owners. Over 18 million African American workers have a little extra money in each paycheck thanks to the President’s payroll tax cut. We have a Wall Street watchdog cracking down on predatory lending that disproportionately affects minorities in America. And manufacturing, a driving force behind the middle class, has grown under President Obama for the past two years — the first time in over a decade.
Last week, I voted against the Republican-sponsored state budget. It took money from the General Fund, which is supposed to be dedicated to education, public safety, and health programs and put it toward more roads. While I believe in the need to fix our transportation crisis in Virginia, we cannot do so on the backs of public school children.
On this issue, President Obama’s priorities are clear. He has called education equality the "civil rights issue of our time." Education is a critical part of an economy built to last. That’s why President Obama expanded childhood education programs like Head Start and doubled the Pell Grant scholarships. He also secured $850 million in funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which will educate African American students for years to come. A good education made the children and grandchildren of sharecroppers into doctors, lawyers and ministers, and it is necessary to help the next generation continue to prosper.
While my own slice of Black History is just a small piece of the pie, I hope to leave the Commonwealth of Virginia a little better than I have found. It is true that we have more work to do. Minorities were hit especially hard by the recession. But we have come far, and President Obama is making sure everyone has the chance to take part in our recovery. We have leaders like President Obama to thank for our progress as a country.
Charniele Herring (D-46) serves as the House Minority Whip and represents Alexandria City in the Virginia General Assembly. For more information, visit www.charnieleherring.com or on twitter @c_herring.