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Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! 

This phrase has been chanted at protests, written on signs, spray-painted on buildings and posted on social media by many across the country. From Seattle to Miami and everywhere else in between, and abroad, we are witnessing a movement to force everyone with a pulse to understand the demand that Black people be treated with respect, dignity and equity is fervent. While people are proclaiming from near and afar that Black lives matter, we all have to collectively ask ourselves, “what does this actually mean?” 

Whether they are on the side of justice or not, I am convinced that most Americans will agree that we are in one of the most pivotal times in our nation’s history. There is a current push for change unlike anything that my generation has ever seen before. We are eager for solutions and a clear path to what’s next. We want to know that our righteous rage has meaning. Among Black people, this typically lends itself to discussing the need for economic empowerment, the importance of fixing our education system and, most commonly, the case for participating in the electoral process.

There has been widespread encouragement from Black politicians and the activists in the street on the front lines to increase civic engagement, become an active voter, push your legislators to do more, understand your local budget, defund the police, reclaim power structures and a wide variety of other suggestions revolving around this theory. We have seen cultural icons like LeBron James and Sean “Diddy” Combs create voting rights groups, campaigns and openly ponder the need to withhold the Black vote. Though different in their approach, each speaks to a consistent truth: not a damn thing has changed in the day-to-day lives of Black people; systemic oppression is still pervasive and thriving.

We can proclaim that Black Lives Matter all we want; however, Black lives will not matter until Black politics do. Black-centered policies developed by Black people that will change the daily lives of all Black people — those of us living in poverty, who are middle class and even the Black elite — are necessary now more than ever.

Our country is a nation built on practices, policies, laws and White Supremacy. Black policies have, and in the current political structure of our nation, will forever be the catalyst for tangible change. The notion that the descendants of enslaved Africans in America are entitled to 40 acres and a mule is based on a once-established policy. However, as has been the norm for most things pertaining to Black people in this nation, that promise was snatched away through policy change. Combatting this reality requires collective work by policymakers, advocates and people in the streets. Policies and priorities must connect directly to the needs in communities. Anything less than the intentional reallocation of resources by policymakers on a local, state and federal level is nothing more than lip service. To many, this may be too harsh or direct. To others, it may feel daunting and nearly impossible. To those with a mission to combat and defeat White Supremacy, this is both necessary and very possible albeit challenging.

One way for local elected officials to address the wrongs of the past is to analyze their city’s budget and strategically allocate resources to marginalized and underserved communities. As an elected official in Charlottesville, Virginia, two of my proudest moments were the City Council’s adoption of the “Equity Package” and the “Business Equity Fund.” Both policies resulted in multimillion-dollar budget allocations to marginalized communities and had a direct and immediate impact on Black people in Charlottesville. While these initiatives may have been my idea, they would not have been enacted without the support of my colleagues and constituents who successfully lobbied for them. Racism, White Supremacy and the ills of our country will not be cured by one or two people nor will they be solved overnight or in silos. We must build power among ourselves and use our mission — in its true form — to gain the support of partners who are willing to help us in this fight.

Dr. King said it best. In his “Black Is Beautiful” speech, he said: 

“Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation can do this for us. No Kennedisonian or Johnsonian Civil Rights Bill can do this for us. If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.” 

If we truly believe this to be true, then the same applies for our current political institutions. I would extend this to say that no Democratic Party can do this for us. No Republican Party can do this for us. And, if the Black person in today’s America is going to be free and advocate for their own specific policies that are not watered down, appropriated or hijacked by others, then we must own our own politics. 

We have seen other groups of Americans take control of their own politics, why can’t we? We have seen the Tea Party shake the internal world of the Republican Party, why can’t we? We have seen Jewish groups such as AIPAC play a significant role in the political landscape, why can’t we?

If nobody else can do this for us, then we are called to do this for ourselves. We can agree that Black people deserve a political system that is responsive to their needs and answers the call for justice with urgency. The time is now for our people to mobilize, galvanize and use our collective energy for our collective good. We are not a monolithic group, so we will not all agree on everything or about everything. No political organization has 100% agreement, but I do believe deeply that in Black politics, what is yours is mine, what is mine is yours, and Our Black Party is just that, ours!