Dear Congressional Black Caucus members: Happy anniversary.
Your organization was formed in 1969, and in September you will mark your 40th annual Legislative Conference with a broad list of workshops that, in many ways, mirror the caucus's legislative agenda for the 111th Congress.
But something is missing, and it's called family values. Do you prefer Republicans claim them as a conservative issue?
Your political agenda this year stands in stark contrast to a seminal warning made in 1965, long before such caucus co-founders as Shirley Chisholm, Walter E. Fauntroy and Charles B. Rangel were sworn into Congress. And your membership is three times greater today than it was in 1969.
Yet, the caucus - which used to be considered America's "conscience" - has not used its power to empower families.
Do you know what "Negro" life was like before the founding of the caucus? In his 1965 report, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that the black family was in dire straits, concluding that the nation should try "to strengthen the Negro family so as to enable it to raise and support its members as do other families. After that, how this group of Americans chooses to run its affairs, take advantage of its opportunities, or fail to do so, is none of the nation's business."
Most of you know that the facts and insights in the report weren't welcomed with open arms by blacks and liberals. But where stands today's black family?
Who hurts when public schools teach black children what to think instead of how to think? Look at the achievement gap.
Who hurts when black parents are encouraged to hand their babies and toddlers over to one-size-fits-all child caregivers? Look at special-education rates.
Who hurts when black teens are allowed to drop out of school? Look at juvenile crime rates.
A few months ago, the late Dorothy I. Height was laid to rest. She spent all her adult life trying to push black Americans toward a day when discrimination and miscarriages of justice were no more. She, perhaps more than any other of the civil rights giants, sought a path that focused on family.
"We are not a problem people," Height once said, "we are a people with problems. We have historic strengths. We have survived because of family."
You, dear members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have historic strengths, too. Today, for example, you can boast that one of your own,Mr. Rangel, stands on high ground (for now) as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And Democrats such as Eleanor Holmes Norton, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters can go toe to toe on the House floor against their most articulate counterparts in the Republican Party.
But your praiseworthiness would grow tenfold if you wagered more political capital on uplifting the family.
Providing low- and no-cost services for, say, child care is OK if parents are working. Better to have the children of the working poor cared for than left alone to fend for themselves. But you support policy that encourages parents to ship their young off to child care so they can sit home, make more babies and watch reruns of "Who's Yo' Baby Daddy?" on a 42-inch TV screen.
Pardon the extreme stereotypes, but, Lord knows, blacks are sick and tired of being sick and tired. That's why it would be nice to hear you push the benefits of the very family values that helped you reach the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol.
You know, husbands and wives raising children and being engaged with their children's schooling.
It's hard, I know, because House members serve two-year terms and are always in election mode. But you have had 40 years to push your agenda, and black families are hurting as much today as they were in 1969. It's time to give back.
Remember what Height said: "We have survived because of family."
- Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.
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