Sen. Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford

To continue its work to combat systemic racism, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus held a number of committees during the last week of October, covering topics from a lack of diversity in the workforce to disparities within the health care system.

The Senate held a joint hearing Monday to discuss the vast disparities Illinoisans face in access to treatment for addiction and mental health disorders.

“It’s crucial that we examine the intersections of mental health, bias and incarceration rates,” said Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago), chair of the Senate Public Health Committee. “One in five people shot and killed by the police suffered from mental illness. People who should be getting treated for their illnesses are instead being abused, killed and locked up. We must begin to look at these issues differently.”

Legislators heard from mental health advocates including Dr. Rashad Saafir, CEO of Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center, who broke down the cycle of disparity: Many African Americans who go to the emergency room for a mental health or addiction crisis will be released without continued care, oftentimes returning to homelessness. On the streets, where police serve as first responders, people who are mentally ill are more likely to be arrested. While incarcerated, they have little to no access to mental and behavioral health care.

Later in the week, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) joined the Senate Education and Higher Education Committees for a hearing focused on student support services reforms, teacher reforms and developmental education reforms for Illinois college students Wednesday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous effect on college students and their mental health,” Lightford said. “It’s a necessity for students to have access to support services that keep them engaged and connected with other students, make them feel welcome and ease emotional stress. Colleges must ensure as many students as possible are receiving this assistance.”

The hearing also focused on why the performance gap between white students and students of color persists.

Additionally, to brainstorm how to bring more diversity to labor unions, the Senate Labor Committee, Executive Committee and Commerce and Economic Development Committee held a hearing Thursday afternoon.

“Women and people of color deserve the same trade and employment opportunities as everybody else,” said Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).  “Labor unions need to be more intentional with their recruitment and training strategies. Looking at these issues through an equitable lens will not only level the playing field, but increase the success of business in the long haul.”

During the joint hearing, the following issues were examined:

  • Increasing participation in trade unions, getting card carrying members into jobs, getting people out of apprenticeships programs and into jobs, identifying community based organizations that can serve as pre-apprenticeship practitioners
  • Increasing pre-apprenticeship programs that are tied directly to unions
  • Identifying barriers for potential applicants

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus will continue to hold weekly virtual hearings to further examine how to rid the state of systemic racism and give everyone the opportunities they deserve. For a schedule of upcoming hearings, click here.