Politics

The Crucial Role of Black Elected Officials in South Carolina: Why Representation Matters

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New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow's documentary 'South to Power' explores the concept of "reverse migration," encouraging Black Americans to return to the South because it's where there is the highest concentration of African Americans. The idea is power in numbers, with the hope that more Black elected officials can help make real change.

We will further profile Black officials from the Palmetto State in an upcoming series, "Young, Black, and Elected."

In the Palmetto State of South Carolina, the presence and significance of Black elected officials cannot be overstated. From overcoming historical adversity to assuming positions of power and influence, Black experience in the South embodies a narrative of resilience, empowerment, and social change. In a state deeply entrenched in the legacy of racial inequality, Black elected officials serve as beacons of progress, driving positive transformation in governance, policy-making, and community empowerment.

South Carolina, like many Southern states, has a tumultuous history marred by racial discrimination and segregation. From the era of slavery to the civil rights movement, African Americans have faced systemic barriers to political participation and representation. However, despite these challenges, Black leaders have persevered, mobilizing communities and advocating for change. Today, their presence in elected offices across South Carolina is a testament to their enduring commitment to justice and equality.

One of the primary roles of Black elected officials is their ability to represent and amplify the voices of marginalized communities. Historically, disenfranchised and underserved populations, including African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities, often find themselves sidelined in the political process. By virtue of their lived experiences and shared struggles, Black elected officials bring a unique perspective to governance, ensuring that the needs and concerns of their constituents are heard and addressed.

State Representative Dr. Jermaine L. Johnson is running for re-election in 2024. After a court settlement, his District 70 is now District 52. During a recent conversation, Johnson talked about his early days in California and his move to South Carolina.

His personal family experience dealing with gang violence prompts him to focus his efforts on combating gang violence in the state. In partnership with the grassroots organization Gangs in Peace, Johnson is hosting events in areas with low voter turnout rates and high crime.

The outreach is reaching over ten counties statewide for 2024, with hopes of hitting all 46 counties by 2026.

During a recent conversation with The Arena, Johnson emphasized the importance of mental health in the African-American community, saying, "It's okay to have Jesus and a therapist."

The issue of mental health in the Black community is paramount, and it makes Black politicians face a dual challenge at the polls. Not only are they running for an elected seat, but they are also running against history.

In addition to Black elected officials, Black women running in the South have been pivotal in the Democratic Party's success. It wasn't an accident when Georgia, a historically red state, turned blue with the help of Stacey Abrams.

South Carolina boasts a first: Christale Spain, the first Black woman elected to chair the South Carolina Democratic Party, and also the first for either party. She oversaw the first Democratic Party presidential primary earlier this year.

During a recent interview with The Arena, Spain explained the importance of South Carolina being the home of the Democratic primaries and the significance of the Black vote. She emphasized that South Carolina is a "course correction" from traditional places like Iowa and New Hampshire, stating that the Democratic Party realized it couldn't keep starting with predominantly white states when "the base of our party is Black." Spain's interview with The Arena will be released next week on the Worthy Cause podcast.

All across the state, there are reminders of a not-so-pleasant past for African Americans. Issues like open carry, book banning in some regions of the state, and the national overturning of Roe v. Wade impact women's choices on a local level.

South Carolina appears to have young African Americans willing to confront these problems head-on and look for what John Lewis called "good trouble." There's an opportunity for South Carolina to lead the way.

Title photo credit: Travis Bell/STATEHOUSE CAROLINA

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