By State Senator Jason Lewis
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Great civil rights leaders like Dr. King or Fannie Lou Hamer or John Lewis have rightfully earned their place in American history for their extraordinarily courageous leadership in fighting for racial justice in our country. But the hard work of pursuing justice and building a more perfect union is also powered by ordinary people and community groups that contribute to this struggle every day, in many different ways, large and small. In celebration of MLK Day, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to each one of you.
One of the important ways that we can advance racial justice is by passing laws that make our Commonwealth more just and equitable – laws that help dismantle systemic racism and provide redress for past wrongs.
Thanks in part to the tireless efforts of advocates in our communities and all across Massachusetts, our state legislature has made some major strides in recent years to pass laws that are advancing racial justice in healthcare, education, housing, criminal justice and law enforcement, economic opportunity and in addressing climate change. Some of these landmark new laws include:
- Criminal justice reform legislation that is changing many aspects of our criminal justice system that have disproportionately targeted and harmed people of color.
- An increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour and a universal paid family and medical leave program that is increasing economic opportunity and fairness for low-income workers, who are overwhelmingly people of color and immigrants.
- The Student Opportunity Act that is expanding the promise of a high-quality public education to all students, including those in historically disadvantaged and marginalized communities.
- Law enforcement and policing reforms to increase transparency and accountability, especially in the policing of communities of color.
- Climate change legislation that will make Massachusetts a national leader not just in transitioning to a clean energy economy but also in advancing environmental justice in communities of color that have disproportionately borne the burden of pollution and environmental degradation.
- Various pandemic relief and recovery bills that have prioritized health equity and addressing racial health disparities that have been further exacerbated by the current public health crisis.
While these new laws are all important steps forward for racial justice in Massachusetts, there is much more that still needs to be done. As Dr. King said: “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
In my role as Senate Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, I’m particularly focused on steps we can take to advance racial justice and anti-racism in our public schools.
One bill that I have sponsored, An Act relative to educator diversity, would accelerate efforts to recruit, support, and advance more teachers and school administrators of color. Extensive research shows that all students, but especially students of color, benefit from having teachers and school leaders of color.
Another bill that I am championing, An Act relative to anti-racism, equity, and justice in education, will promote a more inclusive curriculum and teaching practices that improve educational outcomes for students of color. This bill was drafted in partnership with students, teachers, and community activists in Malden, and I am immensely grateful for their civic engagement and commitment to racial justice.
Let us continue to be inspired by the legacy of Dr. King and other courageous civil rights leaders as we each, in our own way, help “bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”