For its first year, leaders of the Kansas Black Leadership Council say they are pleased by the awareness they’ve been able to bring to the issues in their 2016 Platform.
During the 2016 Kansas Legislative session, KBLC drafted and helped introduce two bills in support of issues on the group’s inaugural platform, collaborated with other organizations in support of proposed bills that mimicked KBLC’s platform, encouraged ban-the-box policies adopted in several cities, and saw body cameras put in use in the Wichita Police Department.
One bill proposed by KBLC, supported the 2016 Platform item to make it easier for Kansans to register and vote. The second bill, the Kansas Reinvestment Act, supported a Platform item to encourage small business expansion in zip codes with high poverty levels.
To KBLC members, the proposed bills only made good sense, but they quickly found out how difficult it is to get action on any proposal for change.
“Even with political power and connection, it can take years to get a bill passed, no matter how great the idea is,” “said Bonita Gooch, KBLC president.
On many KBLC 2016 Platform issues, the group collaborated with other organizations across the state. For example, the group joined on as one of eleven groups in support of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Smart Justice package of suggested reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.
“We took an approach of collaboration on many issues,” says Gooch. “First that confirms that many of the issues impacting African Americans in Kansas are the same issues impacting many Kansans. We also recognized that joining with other where we found common grounds was a more powerful approach.”
The ultimate goal, Gooch says, would be to have our own full-time lobbyist in Topeka, who could spend time attending hearings and meeting with legislators to get KBLC platform issues heard. That individual could also respond when issues that work against African Americans are introduced.
That takes more money than the fledgling group currently has, but a full-time lobbyist remains an organizational goal.
“Adopting our platform and mailing it out to members of the Kansas legislature helps bring awareness to an issue. It’s a good first step, particularly from a community that has been missing at the state capital for decades,” says Gooch. However, it’s going to take more to be really effective.”
With more $10 memberships, $50 organization memberships and donations, Gooch says the organization will use the funds to make a greater impact.
It takes money to get things done in Topeka. However change can also be made at the ballot box. KBLC encourages Kansans across the state to take the 2017 platform that will be adopted in October and ask candidates in the November election how they stand on those issues.
“If they don’t support these issues, don’t vote for them,” suggests Gooch.