By Jesse J. Lewis Sr.
This is an opinion column
Is Senator Doug Jones a friend to the Black community? This sounds like a rhetorical question, but here we are answering it.
Recently, I was dismayed by reports of a lack of spending on Black-owned businesses by Jones’ campaign. I did my own research, concerned that perhaps Jones wasn’t always practicing what he preached, but I’ve come away satisfied in what I saw.
The most important investment a campaign can make is its staff. Senator Jones’ campaign staff is composed of nearly 35 percent people of color (the state population is 26 percent). On his Senate staff, currently 14 out of his 44 staff members, or 31.8 percent are Black. Jones is tied with Senator Cory Booker for the highest percentage of African American staff among Senate Democrats, according to the Senate Diversity Initiative Survey.
He’s not just employing Black people; he’s appointing them to positions of leadership, too. Doug Jones’ Senior Campaign Advisor is an African-American woman. He also hired Chief of Staff Dana Gresham, a Parker High School graduate who we are so proud of, who is the only African American in his position among all Senate Democrat offices. In addition, all three of the Senator’s Regional Directors in his offices across Alabama are African American.
I’ve also spoken with the Senator personally throughout the campaign. He’s enlisted Agency54, which I founded, to assist in his campaign. Agency54 is now led by its president, Martha Bozeman, a Black woman and veteran political strategist. Jones has also engaged other Black-owned businesses as well – from caters to motor coaches to media and other businesses.
Jones’s campaign has funded grassroots and community related events, donated back to school supplies, and even sent over $4.5 million to the Alabama Democratic Party to hire “Get Out the Vote” operatives and grassroots organizations, many of whom are African Americans. Jones knows there’s room for improvement when it comes to doing business with Black-owned businesses and that there’s more work to do.
I’ve known Jones for a long time and can attest to the fact that he is no Johnny-come-lately to supporting the Black community. I first met Jones when he was the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. I was a member of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church committee seeking an attorney to prosecute the remaining KKK members responsible for the bombing of the church and the death of those innocent Four Little Girls. He took on the case to finally hold those murderers accountable and secured justice for those little girls’ families. In doing so, he helped close one of the most painful chapter’s in Birmingham’s history.
I am so proud to call Doug my friend and to see him still seeking justice and equality today as our U.S. Senator. He has put minority communities and Alabama at large first, both through his actions and public service.
But let me be clear: it is the senator’s voting record that will make the biggest impact on our lives and the lives of future generations. It is impossible to look at his record and not conclude that he’s been there for us.
Jones has led or co-led more than 21 pieces of bipartisan legislation that have been signed into law, in addition to introducing or cosponsoring hundreds of other bills. Among these bills are the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, which aims to invest $17.9 billion into minority and low-income communities negatively impacted by the pandemic, the FUTURE Act — which he worked on with Sen. Kamala Harris — that permanently renewed federal funding for our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the recent Rapid Coverage for Coronavirus Vaccines Act. He’s continuing to fight for issues, such as education and health care, that matter not just to the Black community but all Alabamians.
Has his campaign done enough to empower Black-owned businesses or Black professionals? I believe both he and we would all say “no.” There’s always more that could be done. But we cannot compare him to the Almighty, we have to compare him to the “alternative;” in this case, Tommy Tuberville. This former football coach makes no apologies for riding the coattails of President Donald J. Trump, who still refuses to condemn white supremacy and asked the extremist group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” on live television.
In this one man’s opinion, there’s no question as to which candidate is a true friend to the Black community. And we need to re-elect Doug Jones to the US Senate so he can continue his work of uniting One Alabama.
Dr. Jesse J. Lewis Sr. is founder and publisher emeritus of The Birmingham Times.