Every year during Black History Month, we must explain that Black history did not begin or end with slavery. No, our stories are vast and expansive: from farmers and brilliant agriculturists to kings and queens of the greatest civilizations. Our story is doused in gold and shining bright as emeralds, even though there are dark periods throughout the history of Black people. We cannot forget the horrors of slavery, and we must remember that Jim Crow was just a generation ago. Yet we have a new era of kings, queens and leaders, like the incredible Vice President Kamala Harris. It is important to remember that while the good history can repeat itself, so shall the bad, if we are not careful.
In 2020, we watched cities in flames and Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. The deaths of Ahmaud, Dreasjon, George and Breonna reveal that our deeply flawed criminal justice system is the same as it was during the terrors of slavery and Jim Crow. We saw peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators targeted and brutalized for practicing their First Amendment rights while more recently, insurrectionists who stormed the most sacred halls of our nation, parading a treasonous flag were subjected to lesser consequences. It is evident that we as a nation have work to do.
Moreover, as we battle an unprecedented global pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black and brown people, we battle the age-old monster of racism. Yes, 2020 shined a light on the many Americas we all live in today.
While none of us would like to revisit 2020, we can revisit how our young leaders were brilliant and courageous. We saw them mobilizing for social justice reform, demonstrating and stepping up to the plate to learn policy and engage in advocacy. The youth of today mobilized like the Freedom Riders of yesterday. In addition, they took pages from SNCC and the SCLC, registering voters and mobilizing for democracy.
Without the community, we as legislators could not effectively advocate. If it were not for advocates outside the Statehouse demanding change, we would not have had the platform to create historic legislation like House Bill 1006 Law Enforcement Reform. The 2021 Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) Justice Reform Agenda is a direct result of the knowledge gained from discussions with our young leaders and community advocates.
The IBLC has been diligently collaborating with our General Assembly colleagues to make a change. From saving lives to community empowerment, our policy agenda represents a year’s worth of advocacy, wrapped into this historic session. As chair, I am proud of our members for taking on this challenge and fighting for change. We work hard to create legislation that will change the stigmatism of mental health, encourage equity in education, provide economic empowerment and advance other important community matters. We will continue to strive for these improvements because we know advocacy works. We hope you will join us during the IBLC Virtual Advocacy Series at 11a.m. every Friday to help advocate for change and move our community forward.
State Rep. Robin Shackleford represents Indiana House District 98, is Indiana Black Legislative Caucus chair, POWER Women Caucus vice chair and Public Health Committee ranking minority member. Contact her at H98@iga.in.gov.