Explaining the Black Agenda

UIS and Illinois Black Caucus host series on four legislative "pillars"

The Illinois Black Caucus made several "significant, impactful changes" by introducing four omnibus bills to address systemic injustice earlier this year, said state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood. The measures have been called the "Black Agenda," drafted in part as a response to the ongoing national dialogue around police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in early 2020.

During a during a virtual discussion June 17 – the first in a series held in partnership between University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and the Illinois Black Caucus Foundation – Lightford spoke about when she first learned of the concept of omnibus bills years ago while she attended graduate school at UIS.

"There had not been an omnibus bill in the legislature in a very long time," said Lightford. Lightford was referring to the Illinois Black Caucus' so-called pillars – a package of bills – four total, addressing police reform, education, the economy and health and human services. The pillars were introduced during the January lame-duck session and all were signed into law by the governor.

A UIS professor of Lightford's explained to her that the extensive so-called omnibus bills are similar to Christmas trees, and various articles, or facets of legislation, could be seen as the ornaments.

"There was no way we could pass a bill under a single subject and rid Illinois of systemic racism," said Lightford. This led the senator to help lead the drafting of a comprehensive package over the past year, focused on issues like equitable workforce development and inclusive history standards in schools.

During the spring session, opponents introduced some new bills "trying to impede the progress that we've done," said Lightford at the June 17 virtual event. The opposition came primarily from law enforcement agencies and affiliated groups.

UIS partnered with the Illinois Black Caucus Foundation to provide a way to educate Illinoisans on the large bills. The foundation's executive director, Tiffany Hightower, is moderating the virtual series. Lightford and other members of the Illinois Black Caucus who have worked closely with the legislation will appear as expert panelists in months to come.

During each event, guest speakers will dive into aspects of the omnibus bills. One from the first event on June 17 – titled Reform: Restoration, Revitalization and Representation – included UIS professor Ty Dooley, whose focus is in policy and political science. "We are on the right road with these four pillars," said Dooley. He focused on two of the pillars – criminal justice and economic reforms.

"The devil is in the details, but the devil is also in the implementation," he said. Hostile law enforcement encounters are a leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 20 and 35, said Dooley. And the effects of the violence on families and communities is "unconscionable," he said.

Meanwhile, the best way to build wealth is homeownership, said Dooley. "Where one lives impacts their life chances across the country." Redlining, exclusionary zoning and state-sanctioned segregation may have been outlawed, he said. That did not stop organizations and clubs from using "more subversive methods" to implement racist policies and limit the resources African American communities could access.

Eliminating poverty requires systemic change where racist policies and practices are embedded in institutions, like schools and places of employment. According to professors at UIS and members of the Black Caucus, the four pillars focus on the prosperity of parents, as well as their children.

The next virtual event, scheduled for August – the date has yet to be publicized – will look at the details of the Illinois Black Caucus' criminal justice reform and will include conversations on violence reduction and police accountability. More information will be posted at uis.edu.

Contact Madison Angell at mangell@illinoistimes.com.

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