Public Advocacy: Healthcare
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been deeply committed to the goal of ensuring that America’s elderly, poor, and underrepresented have equal access to preventative and routine healthcare and services. For this reason, members of the CBC have worked to raise the level of awareness in their communities about the devastating effects of poor health, nutrition and diet; dental hygiene; women’s reproductive health; and HIV/AIDS. Since its inception, the CBC has been committed to community outreach and advocacy.
In the 111th and 112th Congress, members of the CBC have also become vocal on issues of reproductive health and rights. As recently as February 20102, the women of the CBC wrote a letter to senate Democratic women, urging them to defeat H.R. 3803, an unprecedented attach on reproductive choice in the District of Columbia. Officially called the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the legislation would ban abortion after 20 weeks in Washington, DC.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic has also been a major concern of the CBC. Most recently, members have worked diligently to counteract the devastating effects that HIV/AIDS has had on the African-American community, the nation, and the world. CBC members hosted several HIV/AIDS related forums in Washington, DC and in their districts to help raise awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS and to engage the African American community in the fight against the disease. These activities have included hosting information and testing sessions for district residents. In 2006, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) hosted “Getting Real: A Forum about HIV/AIDS” in order to get community members in her district involved in the fight to eradicate the spread of HIV/AIDS. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) launched an HIV/AIDS discussion series that began by engaging the local clergy of her community in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In September 2006, during the CBC Annual Legislative Conference, several members of the CBC were tested for the HIV/AIDS in an effort to encourage young people, particularly minorities, to get tested. In November 2006, several members of the CBC demonstrated their support of World Aids Day by getting tested in their communities. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) issued a challenge in 2006, specifically to African-American women, to get tested while visiting a free medical center in her home district in Cleveland, OH.
The women of the CBC have taken a special interest in the health of women, joining with other community groups to raise awareness about women’s health. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and the Dallas chapter of Girlfriends, Inc. hosted a women’s health forum entitled, “Sisters Call to Action: Reclaiming Our Health” in March of 2004. Several of the current congresswomen have been participants in local and national walkathons in support of breast cancer research.
Yet another important aspect of the CBC’s healthcare advocacy is the organization’s sponsorship of annual health braintrusts. Health braintrusts bring together the foremost medical and legislative leaders in the country to discuss solutions to the pressing health needs of the African-American community. For many years, Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen (D-VI), a physician who has practiced for more than twenty years, has served as Chair of the CBC Health Braintrust. Several other Congresswomen have hosted forums in their districts and have chaired forums at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference including Reps. Eva M. Clayton (D-NC), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Carrie P. Meek (D-FL), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA), and Maxine Waters (D-CA). The purpose of these braintrusts is to not only propose strategies for improving the overall healthcare of the African-American community; they also aim to make the healthcare needs of the African-American community a priority by highlighting them and bringing them to the fore of public debate.
During the 36th Annual Legislative Conference in 2006, the CBC hosted its Health Braintrust under the title “African American Health – In Need of Intensive Care: Renewing and Expanding the Call for a State of Emergency.” The purpose of the braintrust was to evaluate the current state of African American health and explore how to reignite and reinvigorate African American advocacy about healthcare.
In Congress, CBC members have introduced legislation for the purpose of designating certain days, weeks, and months as health awareness days. For instance, female members of the CBC have advocated for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Epilepsy Month, Cover the Uninsured Week, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Sickle Cell Anemia Day, and World Aids Day.
Their advocacy has also included fighting to maintain affordable medical facilities in their communities and rallying against harmful medical practices. In 2006, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) issued a public letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors concerning the plight of hospitals in her district. Likewise Congresswoman Julia M. Carson (D-IN) sent a letter to the FDA urging the agency to strengthen its regulations for the packaging and labeling of prescription drugs. Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-CA) has been relentless in her efforts to raise public consciousness about the dangers of Mercury in dental fillings.
It is clear from these examples that the advocacy of the CBC has taken on many forms and has encompassed a diversity of issues. Working alongside their male colleagues, the women of the CBC have fought hard to improve the quality of healthcare not only for African Americans, but of all Americans.