Getting Minority Voices Heard

Point of View by U.S. Studies Program Associate Acacia Reed

Oct 05, 2004

Although African Americans and members of other minority groups have made great legal strides, societal barriers still exist that prevent their social and political empowerment. When I worked with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) prior to my position at the Wilson Center, I saw a dearth of minority representation on Capitol Hill and a consequent uphill battle for Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members who wanted to get their political agendas heard.

Policies intended to assist the disenfranchised--a category African Americans fall into disproportionately--are not given priority. The longer such problems as unemployment, low-paying jobs, or unaffordable health insurance remain unresolved, the more they contribute to the disempowerment not only of African Americans, but also of many groups in the United States. Fortunately, there are programs to help empower minority populations in the struggle to overcome these problems.

When the CBC was organized in 1976, its members understood the need to promote and maintain a critical level of minority representation on Capitol Hill to preserve and further the civil rights gains of the 1960s. They created the CBCF to help combat the lack of minority talent in the political arena. One CBCF program was a fellowship that enabled promising masters level and law school graduates to work with Congressional members. By immersing these young men and women in politics, the Foundation broadened the talent field for Capitol Hill and other public policy positions.

When I met with Philippa Strum, director of the Division of United States Studies (DUSS), she spoke of a similar program called "New Scholarship in Race and Ethnicity." Junior-level minority scholars in academia reported that senior members of their disciplines often discounted their work in the areas of race and ethnicity. By featuring the work of promising young minority scholars, the "New Scholarship" series gives them an opportunity to present their work and have it analyzed by the Wilson Center and senior scholars in their fields.

As the CBCF offered young policymakers and thinkers an opportunity to work with Congress, the U.S. Studies program offers young scholars an opportunity to work with senior members of academia. Where the CBCF tackled the lack of diversity in the political arena, DUSS helps diversify the world of scholarship. Such programs provide important opportunities for minorities to gain social, political, and legal equality.