This year will not be lost upon us — a worldwide pandemic, heightened racial tensions and a national election that drew an unprecedented number of voters to cast ballots.
There was also a lot of hurt in 2020, including in my own family. We lost our home of 11 years to a fire that left us with only the clothes on our backs, a few mementos and our dog. And two weeks prior to us losing our home, we lost my mother-in-law instantly after checking herself into the emergency room. I write this with a heavy heart, yet an optimism for a better 2021.
Prior to the pandemic, our country was witnessing an unprecedented record of Black employment, the highest ever recorded, and great optimism regarding our economic future. When COVID-19 arrived, things slowed, but did not stop the drive and commitment from leaders like Sen. Tim Scott.
Scott’s approach to getting things done is exactly what was needed in Congress. As we examined the senator’s record, I was encouraged by his commitment to improving the lives of Black people and will highlight just a few notable initiatives.
Scott has worked to ensure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were successful in securing record-level and permanent funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Scott passed the HBCU PARTNERS Act, which required federal agencies to submit and publish annual reports on how they are engaging HBCUs. Last year, he was able to secure $52 million in the Department of Defense budget to increase HBCU students’ participation in D.O.D’s research, development, test and evaluation programs and activities. To expand on his belief that education policy is not about protecting a bureaucracy but providing a quality education for every American child, he championed the reauthorization of the Scholarship for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR), which provides continued choice for families in our nation’s Capitol.
The South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce strives to make sure access to economic opportunities is paramount. Scott has been praised for the passage of Opportunity Zones legislation. Opportunity Zones can change the economic viability and future of some of our most distressed communities in South Carolina. This landmark legislation can create an investment bonanza that will greatly improve the lives of nearly 1.4 million households in nearly 8,700 Opportunity Zones across the United States. The Chamber has seen firsthand the senator’s commitment to ensuring that black entrepreneurs and investors are able to access and benefit from this historic legislation.
Finally, in 2019 at the Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration, President Trump made the following statement: “This landmark legislation (First Step Act) will give countless current and former prisoners a second chance at life and a new opportunity to contribute to their communities, their states and their nation.” This was the driving force that led Scott to be one of the original cosponsors of the package more than a decade ago. The First Step Act will attempt to undo the human cost that too many African Americans had to bear because of the 1994 Crime Bill. Inmates now will have access to drug treatment programs, mental health services and educational opportunities.
The South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce prepares to lay out its legislative agenda for 2021. We stand ready to work with those that are serious and committed to expanding opportunities for small businesses. We want to make sure small businesses not only survive, but thrive.
This year has been hard but has not been without hope. Our leaders came together when it mattered most to provide some support to businesses and the American people. 2021 will have its challenges, but if we can remember that we are all South Carolinians, and all Americans, there is not anything we cannot do.
Thanks, Senator, for reminding us of this!