“More than building a career, what I have done throughout my life is followed my passion for activism. … So the theme I’ve noticed in my life is that great success has come when I was simply doing the things I was passionate about to make whatever difference I could. That’s the lesson I would have to offer to anyone and that’s always lead with your passion. But I’m not done yet.” — U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, chair-elect, Congressional Black Caucus
In January, the most ethnically and culturally diverse Congress in United States history will be seated. Among the historic “firsts,” the Congressional Black Caucus will exceed 50 members for the first time in its 47-year history and Rep. Karen Bass has been elected its chair.
Bass, of California’s 32nd District, has a history of blazing trails for Black women. She was the first to lead a state legislative body when she was sworn in as speaker of the California State Assembly in 2008. She led the state through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, fast-tracking economic stimulus legislation to jump-start billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects. Her successful bipartisan efforts to negotiate a state budget during the economic crisis earned the 2010 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
As a member of the House Judiciary Committee and its Task Force on Over-Criminalization, Bass is well-positioned to effect advance one of the CBC’s signature issues, criminal justice reform. Earlier this year, the Committee passed the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (FIRST STEP) Act with an overwhelming bipartisan majority.
Bass has been a leading advocate for a legislative package based largely on the National Urban League’s Main Street Marshall Plan, the Jobs and Justice Act. As she explained in a statement announcing the introduction of the omnibus bill, during the 2016 presidential campaign, an infamous question was asked of African Americans: “What do you have to lose?”
Bass and the CBC executive leadership team answered that question in the form a 130-page policy document titled, “We Have A Lot to Lose: Solutions to Advance Black Families in the 21st Century.” That document, along with the Main Street Marshall Plan, served as the basis for the Jobs and Justice Act.
Prior to serving in elected office, Bass worked as a physician assistant and served as a clinical instructor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. In response the gang violence epidemic sweeping Los Angeles in 1990, Bass founded Community Coalition, a community-based social justice organization addressing the root causes of injustice.
The other officers elected to lead the CBC for the 116th Congress are Reps. Joyce Beatty (Ohio 3rd), 1st Vice Chair; Brenda Lawrence (Michigan 14th), 2nd vice chair; Hank Johnson (Georgia 4th), secretary; A. Donald McEachin (Virginia 4th), whip; and Rep.-elect Steven Horsford (Nevada 4th), parliamentarian.
We congratulate Bass and the rest of the leadership team and look forward to working with the CBC in the coming two years to address issues of opportunity, equality and justice.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.