With its very existence threatened by proposed state budget cuts, the African-American Affairs Commission journeyed to New Haven to try to drum up support—and found a couple of dozen interested people.
“We could not get this showing in Hartford,” said Fred Pierre-Louis (at right in photo), chair of the statewide commission. He gestured at about 25 people seated in a function room at Gateway Community College, where the commission held its monthly meeting on Wednesday evening.
In his view, that was a good sign for the African-American Affairs Commission, one of several minority commissions that Gov. Dannel Malloy has proposed be consolidated to save money.
As it turned out, many of the people who showed up to Wednesday’s meeting were Gateway sociology students who had been instructed to attend by their professor, April Capone (pictured), erstwhile mayor of East Haven.
A handful of local African-American activists and officials also attended. New Haven cop Shafiq Abdussabur, head of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, said he left the meeting convinced that the commission should not be folded in with other minority commissions. If anything, the commission should be given more money, he said.
Pierre-Louis said the commission won’t know its fate until the state budget passes.
Malloy’s budget proposal calls for saving about $800,000 per year by consolidating the legislature’s commissions on women, African-Americans, Latinos, children, Asians, and the elderly. Malloy’s plans calls for the consolidated commission—dubbed the Commission on Citizen Advocacy—to also represent the interests of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
The proposal has prompted criticism from existing minority commissions, including charges that the plan is “insulting.”
Pierre-Louis said the African-American Affairs Commission has made a case for continuing to exist as a separate entity.
“Our issues are unique,” he said. For instance, the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students affects black students disproportionately. “It’s huge for us.”
The role of the commission is to “articulate needs” to the General Assembly, Pierre-Louis said. The commission makes recommendations to the state on new legislation. Asked for an example of legislative victory, Pierre-Louis mentioned the 2008 modification of hate crimes legislation to include a ban on displaying nooses.
“We played a key role in making that illegal,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first time in his memory that the commission has met in New Haven instead of Hartford.
“Coming here is an effort for us to gain support,” Pierre Louis said.
As the meeting kicked off, six commissioners sat at a horseshoe of tables. Another four attended via speakerphone.
In addition to Gateway students and Abdussabur, New Haven activist Barbara Fair was at the meeting, along with civil rights attorney Clifton Graves, and plumber and mayoral candidate Sundiata Keitazulu.
The commission heard a presentation from Rev. William Mathis (pictured) about the implementation of “Project Longevity,” the city/federal campaign to end gun violence.
After the meeting, Abdussabur called it “a productive start.”
“But I think the commission needs to take on some of the tougher issues,” said Abdussabur (pictured). “I would like them to be more assertive.”
To tackle problems in “communities of color”—like violence, crime, unemployment, high drop-out rates—the commission will need to do more, and shouldn’t be combined with another commission, Abdussabur said. “That requires often more money, not less money.”
“The commission should continue to exist independently and full financial support to create and agenda to tackle the issues,” Abdussabur said.