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Roland Burris Swore Into Senate

U.S. Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) being sworn into Senate in 2009. Burris's exit from the senate this year, will leave it without any African Americans members.

Washington – Right now, black folks in America cannot see themselves reflected in the makeup of the Senate. But we should see that reflection, and we should push collectively for the next black senator, regardless of whether that person is a Republican or a Democrat. What matters is how that person connects to his or her own local constituents regardless of race, as well as to black people nationally.

Whether we throw into the mix Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams or former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma from the Republican side or draw from current members of the all-Democrat Congressional Black Caucus, as black Americans we should be able to take pride in seeing a black Senate candidate elected before too long.

It is very easy to overlook the importance of our having sound representation at all levels of government. True, effective advocacy is not based on skin color alone. Rep. Charlie Rangel’s recent ethics woes only highlight that, as Public Enemy said, ” … every brother ain’t a brother ’cause a color,” at least not in the political sense.

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However, in an age when black Americans’ collective plight is sliding backward and President Obama has only two years left in his first term, it is imperative that we make sure we’ll have influence within the stronger legislative chamber, especially since many African Americans in the House reside in cushy congressional districts with little incentive to expand their power. That complacency guarantees us representation but does not provide those representing us with the national resonance in speech or action that seated senators enjoy. Nor does it provide the same general access to the highest levels of leadership.

Regardless of our political affiliation, it would be good for us to heed Burris’ words. We must add to our political legacy in a way that offers more hope and a larger voice in the national discussion so that all of America is again reflected in the U.S. Senate.

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