An Equity Agenda for Black Americans

Deval Patrick
Jan 20 · 9 min read

Today, to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are announcing this Equity Agenda for Black Americans. Drawing upon our full policy platform, this proposal makes specific commitments to address the barriers to opportunity, wealth, justice and equality that Black Americans continue to experience, and that as a result continue to make the American experiment incomplete.

Growing up on the segregated South Side of Chicago, surrounded by poverty, overcrowded and under resourced schools, broken playgrounds and sidewalks, and sometimes broken people, we still had a community. Each child belonged to every adult. People shared what food, time and wisdom they had. Most people were from the South. They told stories of resilience, achievement and hope. It humbles me still when I think that these neighbors, with all the challenges Black people faced, gave me such faith in the American Dream.

As President, my administration will commit the time, the ideas and the money to reward Black Americans for that faith. And while that is a commitment I make to all the many Americans who feel unseen and unheard today — the folks in rural communities and small towns whose kids have to move away to make a way, or in many a suburb where credit cards and food pantries help make ends meet — Black Americans should know that my determination to make the American Dream real for everyone everywhere comes from the lived experience of family, friends and neighbors from the South Side who, for generations and for reasons of intention or neglect, have had their dreams deferred.

The American Dream remains further out of reach of Black Americans than other Americans. In home ownership and wealth creation, Black Americans still bear the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow. Black Americans continue to face discrimination in hiring, promotions, housing and access to capital. Health disparities persist, leading to poorer outcomes and greater costs. Mass incarceration has devastated generations of Black American men without making America safer. Hate crimes are on the rise.

We can change that. The policy proposals we are announcing this month — the Democracy Agenda to fix our broken democracy, the Opportunity Agenda to grow the economy and expand everyone’s chance to prosper, the Reform Agenda to change broken systems, and the Leadership Agenda to restore our stature and improve our security — address many of the strategies we will pursue to make meaningful, lasting change. You can find them on our website as they are released this month.

Bryan Stevenson, the gifted civil rights lawyer, author and speaker, said that “in America the opposite of poverty is not wealth — it’s justice.” This agenda is about justice.


A Lifetime of Achievement

Born on the South Side of Chicago, Deval Patrick lived with his grandparents, his mother, and his sister in their grandparents’ two bedroom tenement, much of that time on welfare.

He was a civil rights lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Clinton Administration, a successful businessman, and the two-term Governor of Massachusetts — the first Black American to be elected governor of Massachusetts and only the second to be elected in America since Reconstruction.

As head of the Civil Rights Division, Patrick co-led the investigation of arsons at black churches across the South. At the time, this was the largest federal criminal investigation in American history. He also defended voting rights and prosecuted excessive use of force by police.

As Governor, he delivered results for communities of color. Because of his leadership:

Massachusetts ranks first in the nation in health care coverage — with over 98% of residents insured.

Massachusetts ranks first in the nation in student achievement, and closed achievement gaps by more than a third.

Massachusetts eliminated minimum mandatory sentencing for non-violent drug offenses and launched a significant overall of criminal sentencing.

Massachusetts reduced the “look back period” for expunging criminal records and “banned the box” requiring premature disclosure of criminal records on employment applications.

Governor Patrick nominated the first ever Black American Chief Justice and the first ever Black American woman to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. By the end of his administration, 20% of his judicial picks were minorities.

More than 17% of managers and 16% of senior managers in the Governor’s administration were minorities, a 200% increase from the previous administration.

The number of minority-owned businesses serving as a vendor to the state increased by over 40% overall during Governor Patrick’s term — 16% for businesses owned by people of color and 51% for businesses owned by women.

When elected, Deval Patrick will be the first direct descendant of enslaved persons to ever hold the office of the President of the United States.


Our Proposals for Equity and Justice

Great Schools and Great Outcomes

To bridge the opportunity gap in our education system that continues to produce divergent outcomes for white and black students, we will:

  • Guarantee universal, quality pre-kindergarten for young learners, with pre-schools serving as the one-stop-shop for a whole host of social services to help families.
  • Increase funding for and innovation in public schools, alongside strategies to close opportunity and achievement gaps.
  • Through a combination of interest refinancing and outright debt forgiveness, eliminate student debt and fund public colleges and universities so they are affordable for all, and free for students who participate in national service.
  • Endow HBCUs so that they are less reliant on wide fluctuations in annual congressional or state appropriations.

Child Care Within Reach

To support working families with young children, we will subsidize families to help pay for childcare for children from birth to pre-K, so parents who need to work can do so.

Better Jobs and More Wealth

To address the lack of economic opportunities in communities of color, and the persistent wealth gap in Black American families, we will:

  • Create business incubators in minority communities with access to equity and working capital, mentoring and training to enable Black American entrepreneurs to build businesses of their own.
  • Streamline and update workforce training programs that connect directly to current or anticipated opportunities in or accessible to Black American communities, in partnership with local employers and community colleges, to create a pipeline to living-wage jobs.
  • Allow Pell Grants to be used for human development opportunities, including associate and vocational degrees.
  • Consolidate jobs and “entitlement” programs so that eligible citizens have a one-stop shop to access important government services.
  • Include career and life coaching, in partnership with nonprofits and social entrepreneurs on a pay for performance basis.
  • Increase training funds based on high priority opportunity zones with economic activity is or is anticipated to be accelerated.
  • Delegate more industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) to private industry with more flexibility.
  • Standardize job accreditations and certificates to streamline the process of becoming certified in a profession or skillset.
  • Target infrastructure investments, through a staged, ten-year plan, with a focus on projects in historically underserved communities that create good jobs, especially utilities, broadband, cellular and other tech-supporting projects.
  • Reform opportunity zone rules to encourage more operating companies to locate there.
  • Expand federal contracting with minority-owned firms and pension fund investment with Black American investment managers.

Affordable Housing

To repair the harm done by historical government-sponsored housing discrimination against African American communities, and to provide stable, more affordable housing options closer to workplaces, we will:

  • Promote and fund the construction of low-, moderate- and middle-income housing in communities around the country.
  • Develop and implement rent-to-own options in public and private housing, alternative financing structures (such as shared equity programs, use of Section 8 vouchers for mortgage payments, etc.), and technology innovations in modular housing.
  • Work with local authorities to end overly-restrictive zoning laws for accessory dwelling units and higher density, and improve permitting processes.
  • Expand programs that pair first-time homeowners with mentorship, guidance, and access to mortgages, and tie federal funding to new eviction protections for renters.

Better, More Equitable Health Care

To reverse and ultimately end the disparities in health care outcomes between minorities and non-minorities, especially among women, and bring universal, affordable and quality health care within the reach of every person, we will:

  • Add a low cost or no cost public option to Obamacare (which could be modeled on an improved version of Medicare). Building on the near-universal coverage we achieved in Massachusetts, we will drive down health system costs, including the cost of prescription drugs.
  • Assure that mental health is a fully integrated part of health insurance, covered at parity.
  • Support research into and data-based responses to health care disparities, including cultural competence training for providers.
  • Invest in community health systems and underlying infrastructure or related medical infrastructure that serves African Americans.

Fight Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism, and Enforce Civil Rights

To address the rise of racist violence against African Americans, Jewish Americans and other minority groups, and the retreat from civil and human rights, we will:

  • Strengthen hate crime laws and condemn hate speech in all its forms, setting a tone of respect for all and the rejection of white supremacy from the White House throughout the federal government.
  • Hold social media platforms accountable for the proliferation of the most provocative hate speech and shut down the dark web where hate groups organize and acquire and distribute illegal contraband is sold.
  • Direct the Justice Department to investigate, disrupt and prosecute domestic terrorism with a comprehensive and coordinated strategy across federal agencies, and require federal agencies to collect and report on domestic terrorism.
  • Direct the Justice Department, the EEOC and all related agencies and offices to investigate and pursue all violations of civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, education, housing, etc.

End Gun Violence

To end gun violence and put a stop to the threat of mass shootings at schools, public places, and places of worship, we will ban assault weapons and institute universal, rigorous background checks for anyone who wants to purchase a firearm.

Restore Trust in Law Enforcement

To stop police misconduct and the reliance on overly-aggressive tactics in black and brown communities, we will:

  • Establish a national standard governing the use of force in policing, and introduce new mandatory training in use of force and de-escalation.
  • Direct the Justice Department to impose accountability on local law enforcement and collect richer data on underlying police interactions.
  • Update and support community policing models on local police forces, with sufficient numbers of personnel to walk neighborhoods and build relationships with members of community.

Criminal Justice Reform

To end mass incarceration and make it easier for people coming out of prison to return to productive life, we will:

  • End mandatory minimum sentencing, making all reforms effective retroactively, and take new steps to better understand the culpability of youth offenders, whose brains are still developing.
  • Ban private prisons, restore the ability of the incarcerated to enroll in Medicaid and access Pell grants, and stop the criminalization of poverty by ending excessive bail and fines.
  • Expand federal reentry programs and partner with employers to facilitate productive and successful reentry after completing incarceration.
  • “Ban the box” on employment applications and reduce the time following the completion of a sentence after which criminal records can be expunged.

Access to Voting

To combat the voter suppression that has steadily and cynically choked off the fundamental act of citizenship, we will:

  • Update and rigorously enforce the Voting Rights Act to prevent states from making it harder for African Americans to vote, including through mechanisms that function as modern-day poll taxes.
  • Update and enforce the Motor Voter Law to make it easier and more convenient for citizens to register and ultimately to vote, work with Congress on nationwide automatic voter registration, and incentivize voting reforms at the state level through competitive grants.
  • Restore voting rights automatically to any incarcerated individual upon being paroled, conditional upon successful completion of non-monetary parole conditions and permanent thereafter.

Reparations and Reconciliation

Governor Patrick supports a plan to have the federal government provide reparations to the living descendants of enslaved African-American persons. Specifically, he supports resolutions introduced by Senator Cory Booker and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee in the Congress which would establish a Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. Patrick hopes and believes that tangible reparations should be expressed in the form of many of the proposals above.

At the same time, Governor Patrick believes reparations without reconciliation are incomplete. Many Americans do not understand the history of official government policy that produced the consequences that continue to challenge Black Americans and Black communities. Understanding and, in some ways, atoning for that history is an essential part of America’s unfinished business. This is a conversation that we still need to have. A commission may help facilitate it. But the President needs to engage it. Having learned that any community — including a national one — requires that we see our stake in each other’s dreams and struggles as well as our own, and having grown up in just such a community that was black, Governor Patrick feels uniquely prepared to engage in this difficult but critical work.

As he puts it, “Other candidates for President have committed to programs of similar scale or promise. In addition to having personally lived the American Dream as an African-American man, what distinguishes me is my demonstrated ability to convert policy proposals into results. That is what I did in Massachusetts as Governor, and that is what I will do as President.”

Deval Patrick

Written by

Former Massachusetts Governor. Democratic candidate for President. Committed to the values of generational responsibility and the politics of conviction.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade