“For these children, our children, and for all of America’s children, the House will come to order!” With these words Representative Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by her six grandchildren, made history the first week of January as she accepted her election as the first female Speaker of the House in American history. Women across the country cheered as she was handed the Speaker’s gavel, making her the second person in line for the Presidency after Vice President Cheney and the most powerful woman ever in American politics. As Speaker Pelosi said, “It’s an historic moment for the Congress. It’s an historic moment for the women of America. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren’t just waiting; women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters now, the sky is the limit.”
But Nancy Pelosi’s victory was just one of the elections making political history this year. It was also a historic election season for Black candidates, and from new Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to members of Congress from across the country, Black political leaders are ready to make a difference in 2007. Governor Patrick, a former civil rights lawyer and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights during the Clinton Administration, became only the second Black elected governor in the United States since Reconstruction. The first, former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder, was one of the guests present as Patrick was sworn into office in January using a Bible that had been given to President John Quincy Adams by a group of Africans he helped free from the slave ship Amistad.
African Americans now hold 42 seats in the House of Representatives, and three new Black Representatives were elected in November. Keith Ellison, the first Black Representative from Minnesota, made headlines as the first Muslim elected to Congress, while Georgia Representative Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jr. was one of the first two Buddhists elected. Senator Barack Obama remains the only Black member of the Senate but Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. fought a very hard and close race in his state, and Maryland Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele also made a strong showing. Meanwhile, Senator Obama is one of the very brightest stars of the Democratic Party and is being closely watched as a possible candidate for President in 2008.
Now that the Democratic Party has regained control of Congress, many Democratic Congressional Black Caucus leaders are poised to become chairs of important Congressional committees and subcommittees—making their voices in Congress even more important. Charlie Rangel is now chair of the very powerful House Ways and Means Committee. So now that Black political leaders are making new strides in halls of power across the country, what new policies do we need? Black children and all America’s children need elected leaders committed to enacting urgently-needed health coverage for all—not just some—children in 2007. They need leaders who will commit to ending child poverty in America by 2015, half by 2010, and to make concrete down payments each year in targeted investments. And they need leaders committed to policies that will help reverse the Cradle to Prison Pipeline® crisis and diminish the risks and disadvantages that right now lead too many children, especially poor and minority children, to marginalized lives and premature deaths. I hope all of our elected leaders are ready to roll up their sleeves and work together to put America’s house in order for our children. And I hope every voter—you—is ready to hold them accountable for results that back up rhetoric.