This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE
John W. Boyd Jr.
Place of Residence: Mecklenburg County, Va.
SEE ALSO: Happy Birthday, Bob Marley!
Why he is a local hero: Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, fought for years to secure a settlement for Black farmers who were discriminated against by the federal government.
When President Barack Obama signed a $1.25-billion bill that would fund a settlement between the Agriculture Department and Black farmers who were discriminated against in December of 2010, Boyd knew the battle had reached an important milestone, but was not over.
“I had the privilege of representing the nation’s African-American farmers in the room the day he signed the bill. And when the President embraced me,” Boyd says, “I felt like he was embracing all those who were affected by the unjust policies of the USDA, Boyd wrote in a letter to supporters.”
Now the difficult part of getting the message out began. The reason this second settlement was necessary was because many Black farmers where unaware of an earlier settlement. Many of the Black farmers who were discriminated against had died or lost their land. Their heirs were unaware of the settlement, and the dwindling number of Black farmers are often poorly educated.
Boyd was determined to spread the word far and wide, so that all of the farmers who were negatively affected by the USDA’s discriminatory policies could finally get some measure of justice.
“My goal is to not leave anyone out. Now is the time for the farmers to reach out and say, ‘This is what happened to me and I can tell my story,'” Boyd said after the settlement was approved.
Boyd is himself a farmer who was discriminated against. When he went to his county office seeking a USDA loan to help save his farm, he says a white farmer spit on him.
That’s why Boyd was relentless as the battle waged on in the Halls of Congress. Rep. Michelle Bachmann said that the settlement was “rife with fraud” while Iowa Rep. Steve King called the settlement “slavery reparations.”
“It sounded like some Rush Limbaugh stuff on the House floor. This case had nothing to do with reparations, it was about discrimination,” Boyd said after the bill was signed. “He gave me all the credibility and validity we need to move forward with this process. He proved my case that racism is still alive in America. We are talking about using this as a stepping stone to fight racism.”
Boyd has also used the settlement as one reason why President Obama deserves to be elected. Boyd first approached Obama about the settlement when he was a new U.S. Senator.
“When I think about the day I met then Senator Barack Obama, I realize that he could have ignored us like so many other senators and presidents before him, but he did the right thing, both as a senator and as president, and helped end 30 years of injustice for our nations’ Black farmers,” says Boyd. “This is a clear example of how the President is committed to resolving injustices and moving our country in the right direction.”