When I started my life in public service four decades ago, it was to tear down the barriers that hold people back from developing their talents and achieving their dreams. That’s what I’m still fighting for today.
But more than half a century after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, race still plays too big a part in determining who gets ahead in America—and who gets left behind.
In America today, one in three Black men will go to prison in their lifetime. African American women earn 64 cents and Latina women 56 cents for every dollar a White man earns. African Americans are nearly three times more likely to be denied a mortgage as whites. The median Black family has just eight percent the wealth of the median White family. Two-thirds of children living in poverty today are African American or Latino. And Black children are 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than White kids.
We need a new and comprehensive commitment to equity and opportunity for communities of color. That means making major new investments to create jobs and economic opportunity, ensure equal pay for women, and end redlining in housing once and for all. It means strengthening access to credit, promoting entrepreneurship, and making it easier to start and grow a business. It means replacing the school-to-prison pipeline with a cradle-to-college pipeline, so every child can live up to his or her God-given potential.
We need policies that will help overcome the enduring impacts of racism. For instance, I have proposed making universal, high-quality preschool a reality. Low-income African American and Latino children gain the most from high-quality preschool programs—helping close the achievement gap. As president, I will fight to give every child in America the fair start they deserve.
In addition to letting millions of people refinance their crushing student loans and ensuring that no student has to borrow money to pay tuition at public universities, my New College Compact also invests in the historically Black colleges and universities that have helped build the African American middle class. HBCUs graduate the majority of African American public school teachers and more than one in four African-Americans who earn STEM degrees. As president, I will make sure these institutions can deliver for future generations.
Beyond education, we have to do more in infrastructure and housing, childhood poverty and environmental justice. For instance, it’s hard to get and keep a job if getting to work means traveling for an hour or more using unreliable, indirect transit systems. In too many places, our public transportation systems haven’t been built with an eye to connecting communities of color to economic opportunities. As president, I will fight to reverse this trend, expanding and targeting federal funding for public transportation as part of a plan to modernize our infrastructure and get more people into good-paying jobs and careers.
Of course, reforming our broken criminal justice system is crucial, which is why I’ve called for banning racial profiling, fully eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine, and ending the era of mass incarceration, among other measures. And we must take on the epidemic of gun violence. I have met too many mothers and fathers whose lives have been torn apart, whose children have been killed by guns.
Ultimately, reversing the legacy of racism and underinvestment will require directing more federal resources to those who need them most. One appealing approach has been proposed by Congressman James Clyburn, who has piloted the “10-20-30” concept—in which 10 percent of funds are directed at communities where at least 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years or more. I believe the 10-20-30 model holds promise and this principle should be expanded to other programs.
And as Dr. King knew well, a political system rigged against full participation at the voting booth only deepens inequality. Republican governors and state legislatures have passed law after law, systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of Americans from voting. What part of democracy are they so afraid of?
I believe every citizen should be registered to vote automatically when they turn 18. Every state should have no fewer than 20 days of early in-person voting. We should restore voting rights to people who have been convicted of crimes and paid their debts to society—because voting is a central part of our civic life. And Congress must act now to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. We have fought too long and come too far to go backward now.
It really comes down to this. We need to pass laws and fund programs. But each one of us must also examine the habits of our hearts. It's the kind of work that comes from talking at our kitchen tables, in our neighborhoods, and on our streets. Seeing the humanity in everyone around us. And, above all, teaching our children to treat others with respect and dignity. That empathy is what makes it possible for people from every background, race, and religion to come together as one nation—the United States of America.