Statement Recognizing Black History Month

February 5, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Senior Chief Deputy Whip, Chair of Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Racial Disparities Working Group, issued the following statement in recognition of Black History Month:

“As we celebrate Black History Month, we give special attention to the numerous contributions of the Black community to the Chicagoland area, our country, and the world. Chicago, which itself was founded by a Black man, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, has a long, rich history from being the birthplace of Chicago blues and will be the home the Presidential Library of our nation’s first Black President.

“Black History Month is a reminder that it is up to all of us, every day of the year to actively combat racism in our communities, institutions, and ourselves. Whether it be on the front lines as essential workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, health care providers, government employees, or in any other service to our nation, Black Americans have continuously shown up for our country in the face of adversity.

“The past year has been a watershed period for Black Americans. The tumult of last summer as a result of the needless death and injuries of young Black men and women at the hands of police abuse brought out people of all ages and backgrounds who stood up and said enough was enough. That momentum was then transformed to energy at the ballot box, as Black people, especially women and young people, turned out in record numbers and tipped the scales in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and especially Georgia.

“We have the responsibility to honor Black lives with more than just words and reflections. We must take action and do our part to ensure that Black communities have equitable access to health care and COVID-19 related resources. This is an essential part of honoring Black communities and in collectively healing from generational traumas like that of the Tuskegee Experiment. Beginning in 1932, nearly 600 Black men diagnosed with syphilis were misled by U.S. public health officials to participate in a study known as the ‘Tuskegee Study’ in exchange for medical care. For 40 years their bodies were instead used to study the progression of syphilis, depriving them of treatment and healing from penicillin, which became the recommended treatment for syphilis in 1947.

“During the same time, women in Puerto Rico, North Carolina, and all over the country were also targeted by eugenics policies in which thousands of women were forcefully or unknowingly sterilized. These racially motivated policies systematically and disproportionately targeted Black families for generations to come. These same policies contribute to obstacles in care for Black families today. That is why I’m proud to be a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus and am working with my colleagues to make sure we address the disparities that exist for expecting and new Black mothers. In the U.S., Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes and are twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death, than white women. In Illinois, that disparity is even larger, with Black women in my state being six times more likely to die from conditions that could be prevented with increased maternal health care.

“From maternal health issues to ensuring access to unbiased health care and equitable vaccine distribution, rebuilding a sense of trust between the Black community and the United States government is essential to achieving the goals of any public health program. It’s also plain the right thing to do. We must do more than just support; we must value Black lives. Making a commitment to ensure the wellbeing of Black lives well before birth would be a salient action in achieving racial equity in any capacity. 

“This past summer, when every American household’s primary concern should have been protecting the wellbeing and health of their families during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black families had the additional layer of having to put their lives at risk to fight racial injustices. After witnessing the terrible murder of George Floyd and shooting of Jacob Blake, whose family is rooted in Evanston, Black communities spoke out against injustices in what can only be seen as a double pandemic.

“And just this past November and January, Black voters organized tirelessly and turned out in record high numbers, freeing us from a racist, incompetent President and saving our democracy. Black voters not only delivered us a President and Vice President who accept and follow science, but also a House and Senate that will fight to deliver much needed COVID-19 relief to Americans, battle climate change, tackle systemic racism, and improve health care. And they delivered us a government that truly represents the American people – with our first Black woman serving as Vice President, an immigrant serving as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and our first openly LGBTQ Cabinet Member.

“As we honor the contributions of Black Americans and celebrate the work of not just the Black community, but Black women, the Afro-Latinx community, queer Black individuals, those who have dedicated their lives in the fight against this pandemic, and so many more intersectional identities, let us remember that Black History Month is about making a commitment to ensure that ALL Black lives feel loved, listened to, and affirmed in the spaces we call home and in every corner of our democracy.”