HBCU Equity, Health Care Top Black Legislative Agenda

Maryland’s African American lawmakers converged on the Sheraton Annapolis hotel Nov. 15-17 for the 2012 Maryland Black Legislative Caucus Weekend, which included the annual prayer breakfast and a host of panels and programs focused on the issues key to the state’s Black residents.

Lawmakers said the weekend provided them an opportunity to pinpoint their priorities for the next legislative session, which begins in January. This year’s event was entitled, “Opening the Pipeline to Economic, Social and Political Justice.”

“In the upcoming session our number one focus is going to be the equality and fairness of funding for historically black colleges and universities in the state of Maryland,” said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. “The issue really is one of fairness. The state, during the era of segregation had a policy of underfunding HBCUs and as a result, the infrastructure at these universities is not comparable to infrastructure at predominately white institutions.”

The weekend featured forums on business, education and health care. Dr. Earl B. Ettienne, an assistant professor at Howard University’s Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy Sciences department, detailed how Blacks descended from certain regions of Africa experience health issues related to their genetic code that date back to the Diaspora.

"The way that we metabolize drugs and the way that they work inside our bodies is different," said Ettienne. He later added, "If you know how the drug will work you can personalize treatment. This is the way of the future."

Dr. Camara P. Jones, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke about how racism—intentional or not—can affect the quality of health care patients receive.

“It could be as subtle as a physician not giving a patient the range of treatment options because they think the patient can’t afford the care, won’t comply, or won’t understand,” she said. “Often it shows up as inaction in the face of need.”

Freda West, founder of the African American Health Alliance, discussed how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law, will equalize care.

“The Affordable Care Act provides tools and access never made available before,” said West, 64. “It’s the bridge and the key to reducing and ultimately eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. Race is one of the most critical factors that tends to be left out of the health care equality equation.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton drew raves for his speech at the always-popular prayer breakfast, said the Rev. Douglas Sands, pastor of White Rock Church in Sykesville, Md.

“He issued a challenge to all Black people in positions of responsibility or authority to be relevant, accountable and effective or sit down and shut up,” Sands said. “He said if you are scared to do that, say ‘I’m scared,’ then sit down and shut up and let somebody else do it.”

Braveboy said while the three-day event was enjoyable, and a great networking opportunity for everyone from business owners to educators to students, the focus is on identifying issues they need to address. Among those for next years’s session—blocking a plan to construct a juvenile detention center in Baltimore.

“Currently there are 43 young people who have been charged with a crime that qualifies them for maximum security in an adult prison. The city is proposing to build a 120-bed facility for these youth,” said Braveboy. “In a time where we are trying to find money to do K-12 education, does it make fiscal sense to build a jail for three times the number of people that currently need to fit that facility?” 

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HBCU Equity, Health Care Top Black Legislative Agenda