Sep 10, 2020
Kamala Harris Miami, FL Community Conversation Transcript September 10
Senator Kamala Harris visited Miami, FL for a conversation with Black leaders to discuss challenges their communities face. Read the transcript of the campaign visit here.
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Crystal Wagars: (01:25)
Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for coming out today. My name is Crystal Wagar, Mayor of Miami Shores, Florida. It is my absolute pleasure to be with all of you and be able to moderate this small round table today. I want to thank our participants and everyone joining us via Zoom this afternoon for this very critical conversation.
Crystal Wagars: (01:45)
We are here today to hear from our very next vice president of the United States, Senator Kamala Harris. And more importantly, we are here for Senator Harris to hear from us. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Senator Harris for over 10 years, and it’s been incredible to watch her journey over the years. I’m so excited that the rest of the country and the world will get to know Kamala, and witness her brilliance, her empathy, her compassion, and her leadership style.
Crystal Wagars: (02:19)
Today, we have assembled black community leaders from every part of Miami-Dade County here at Florida Memorial University, located in the beautiful city of Miami Gardens. We will hear about the various challenges facing our Black community during this unique and difficult time in our nation’s history.
Crystal Wagars: (02:41)
Here is what we know. It did not have to be this bad. And as we face an unprecedented public health crisis, an economy that is spiraling, and a cry for racial justice, we see that Donald Trump has failed to lead this country at every turn. Every step of the way he has left the Black community behind, despite how he spins it. However, I always remain hopeful and I know that a Biden-Harris administration will get this country back on track and build back better.
Crystal Wagars: (03:22)
It is my honor to kick off this round table by introducing none other than Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a lifelong teacher, a mentor in so many communities here in South Florida, and a powerful advocate for all Floridians. She also happens to be my Congresswoman, so I might be a little bit biased. Representative Wilson, thank you for being here with us today, and madam, the floor is all yours.
Frederica Wilson: (03:51)
Oh, thank you. Thank you so much to our fabulous, amazing mayor of Miami Shores, a great leader, Crystal Wagar. Mayor, we’re so happy to have you, and to all of you for sharing this spotlight with me. This is such a fabulous day in the City of Miami Gardens. I am just so proud to be an HBCU graduate and be here with you, Dr. Hardrick. I have an honorary degree from Florida Memorial University, and I am so proud.
Frederica Wilson: (04:32)
I got a call one day, not too long ago. And I had been talking with Senator Harris at the Congressional Black Caucus meetings, and we talk about all kinds of things. We talk about the little girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria, and we all wear red on Wednesdays, and we talk about the commission on the social status of Black men and boys and what we were going to do, and all these kinds of things.
Frederica Wilson: (05:04)
I got this call, I answered the call, I said, “Hello.”
Frederica Wilson: (05:08)
“Hi, Frederica, this is Kamala Harris.”
Frederica Wilson: (05:13)
I said, “Hi Kamala, how are you, darling? My dear sorority sister and friend.” And she said, “I am calling because I want you to know that I’m going to run for [pre 00:00:05:26].” And when she said, “pre,” I started screaming. I did not even let her finish her statement. And I was [inaudible 00:05:36] run, Kamala, run! Run, Kamala, run! That was just an amazing day to me.
Frederica Wilson: (05:42)
And before I could finish speaking with her, I got a text from Mr. Biden, and he was saying, “Frederica, I’m going to need your support.” I texted him right back, I said, “Joe, you know I love you so much. You are my friend, but it was Kamala. This will be the first Black woman running for president.” And he understood. And I said, “I don’t have a crystal ball, but maybe one day the two of you will end up somewhere together.” I didn’t say who was going to be what, but I said it.
Frederica Wilson: (06:21)
Definitely. What do you know? His first decision that he had to make was to pick a vice president, and he picked the most amazing, and the most qualified Black woman in this nation. She knows that I love her. And she also knows that in our caucus, we have members of The Divine Nine. Those are the sororities and fraternities. And we have a past president of Delta Sigma Theta, Marcia Clark, Marcia Fudge, who also endorsed Kamala. This is a Divine Dine candidates, an HBCU candidate. And like [Wip Claborne 00:07:08] said, “Frederica, when you finish from an HBCU, you have to take the same bar exam. You have to take the same medical exam.” Kamala has elevated those two institutions to the highest degree, and then our own national president.
Frederica Wilson: (07:28)
When it was time for Mr. Biden to select the vice president, she was calling me every day, “Have you heard anything?” What’s in the news? What’s in the news? Just know that you’re loved. We’re so proud of you, because Black women have carried this nation, this race, this Democratic Party, ever since we landed on this continent. And for you to be on the cusp of being the first Black Caribbean vice-president, I’m Bahamian, it means so much. It means so much to our district. It means so much to all of the people here.
Frederica Wilson: (08:17)
And I want you to know that we were marching in the street, and calling each other, and everyone in our district was so happy when you were announced. And so many people say that we feel very sorry for Vice President Pence, because he has to debate you on October 7th. And we’re not sure how he’s going to hold up because we have seen you, young lady, in action. We have seen you cross examine the best. We have seen you bring them to their knees. We know that you represent the largest state as U.S. Senator in the country, and what you did before becoming a U.S. Senator goes down in history with so many first.
Frederica Wilson: (09:12)
Right now our district is suffering because we are in the pandemic and we are the apex of the pandemic right here in this community. So many of the zip codes that I represent, we have lost so many people. They have died. Every day, we have a death in District 24. We have tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19, and to learn that the President of the United States knew that this was a disease that would kill my constituents, it doesn’t just make me angry. I am enraged, and all of our mayors and everyone else, we are enraged that this is happening in our district. And we call him a racist, but we have another term now because he’s a murderer. And this is something that could have been avoided.
Frederica Wilson: (10:19)
Know that we’re depending on you, because our little children are suffering in our schools. They don’t know what to do. They’re confused. They have to wear a mask. They have to blow their noses. They have to sneeze, they have to cry. They don’t want to wear a mask. We’re depending on you and Joe Biden, who cares. We know that you care, and we know that you’re going to build back better.
Frederica Wilson: (10:50)
And so, the way we can help you beat Donald Trump, an impeached president, is for us to vote. We have got to vote, not just for the president, but we’ve got to vote down the Ballard, because we have a Senate that must be replaced, who takes all of our bills, and they go there to die.
Frederica Wilson: (11:16)
I want to say to my constituents as they’re listening, and say to you what I say to them, if you do not vote after each election, I get a voter roll from the elections division, and I look at it. I go name by name. People like to come up to me, and say, “Congresswoman Wilson, can I take a picture with you?” And I’m going to look at the roll, and if you’re not on the roll, you won’t be taking a picture with me.
Frederica Wilson: (11:47)
Senator Harris, it’s a pleasure, a pleasing pleasure to welcome to District 24, my ambitious and beautiful friend, the next Vice President of the United States. Kamala Harris!
Kamala Harris: (12:15)
Oh my goodness. Let me publicly thank you Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, as I hope I do often enough privately, for your friendship, for your sisterhood, and for your leadership, not only of your district and this beautiful state, but your national leadership.
Kamala Harris: (12:36)
The thing we all know who know the Congresswoman is she speaks truth to power every single day, and she has the courage to confront the realities of the world in a way that is born out of love and concern, but is precise about what is wrong and therefore what needs to happen by way of solution. That’s who you are every day. I see the Congresswoman in rooms where there are cameras, and I see her in rooms where there are no cameras. And she is the same person, someone who is always fighting for the best of our country, so I thank you Congresswoman for your friendship, and for that beautiful introduction.
Kamala Harris: (13:20)
And Madam Mayor, I want to thank you for hosting us and moderating our discussion today, and for all of your leadership. There are so many community leaders and elected leaders here, and I know we’re going to hear from those at the table, but Dr. Hardrick, I want to thank you for hosting us today. It is a joy to be with you. I was out outside and was serenaded by the roar, and it reminded me of all of the marching bands. There are part of the jewel of our HBCU’s. But I looked at those students, and I said to them, what I saw, that I saw a collection of young leaders. And when I look at them, I see the future of our country. And that inspires me to know that our future is bright, so thank you for hosting us today.
Kamala Harris: (14:16)
I just want to just before we get into the conversation, and this is a group of very informed leaders, and I’m really looking forward to a candid conversation about what’s happening here in Miami, but as an extension of what’s happening in our country, as it relates to all people, but with a particular emphasis on what’s happening with the African American, the Black community here in Miami and in Florida, because I’m here on behalf of myself and Joe Biden to listen and learn to ensure that work that we are doing and intend to do is relevant to the people of this community, and it is about lifting them up and seeing, and hearing them in the process of doing that.
Kamala Harris: (15:04)
But I just want to start by some news that just broke recently, it’s regarding a book that Bob Woodward wrote. And here’s the thing, basically what we are hearing is that on January 28th, the President and the Vice President were informed about the eminence and the dangers of COVID-19. January 28th.
Kamala Harris: (15:38)
On February 7th, the President of the United States, who has the unique and very important and special responsibility of concerning himself with keeping the American people safe was in a conversation where he told, and we’ve heard that conversation. It’s not like it’s a narration of the conversation. We’ve heard it. Said that, “COVID was deadly stuff, said that, “It is airborne.” This is the same man, Donald Trump, who for days, weeks, if not months thereafter called it a hoax, dismissed the seriousness of it to the point that he suggested people should not wear masks. He knew it was airborne, that people would breathe it.
Kamala Harris: (16:49)
Joe Biden said it well. He said, “Well, I guess we now know he knows how to read.” He knew the facts of it. 5%. Potential lethality. He narrated all that in that conversation. In February and January, he had all this information, yet he held rallies. He suggested that to wear a mask is a sign of weakness, as opposed to a sign of strength. This is the President of the United States. We continue to have examples of the fact that this is an individual who is not concerned about the health, safety, and wellbeing of the American people, and is frankly engaged in a reckless disregard of the lives and the health and wellbeing of the people of our country. I find it so outrageous.
Kamala Harris: (17:59)
And here we are in this community, talking about the number of deaths, talking about the number of people who have contracted the virus, talking about the number of people who have become unemployed, who are standing in food lines, who are begging of their government, that we will extend unemployment benefits because of a pandemic that resulted in economic disaster of a measure compared to The Great Depression, and the Commander in Chief of the United States of America was in possession of this information that long ago, but conducted himself the way he did.
Kamala Harris: (18:47)
There are so many reasons why Joe Biden needs to be elected president of the United States. And if those reasons did not make it clear why, this certainly does.
Kamala Harris: (19:04)
So with that, I believe that right now it is the leaders in this room and so many others who are carrying in their hearts, in their souls, in their minds, and on their shoulders, the responsibility of knowing what real leadership in our country looks like. And that’s the spirit with which we are gathered today to talk about what real leadership looks like. And real leadership is always going to be about leaders having the courage to speak the truth even when it is difficult to speak much less difficult to hear, but speaking those truths with the intention of creating the solutions that the people deserve. And so I am honored to be with this group of leaders and I thank you for the opportunity to listen to you and to hear you. And with that, I’m going to pass the microphone back to Mayor Wagar to get this conversation started. Thank you.
Crystal Wagars: (20:12)
Thank you, Senator Harris. Having the courage to speak the truth. That’s what we’re here today for. We’re going to start, the way this is going to work is I’ll introduce all of you and say a little bit, but I’ll leave it to you to introduce yourself and make your remarks. And today we’ll start with Mr. Eric Knowles, a dear friend of mine for many years, who leads the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce and has been doing great things in our business community over the years. Mr. Knowles, please have the floor. Thank you.
Eric Knowles: (20:43)
First of all, it’s an honor to first be here. Sitting in this room with you senator, sitting with my leader, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, with you mayor, with you Dr. Audrey, with you pastor Thomas, and my brother Ruban Roberts with the NAACP is truly is an honor. I am the president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, which was founded in 1974 because of the lack of opportunity and the disparities that were happening in 1974 that continue here in 2020. I talk about disparities with Dade County, Miami-Dade County with Miami-Dade County public schools where black businesses receive less than 2% of county contracts, of school board contracts.
Eric Knowles: (21:32)
When we talk about the pandemic and we talk about George Floyd, we talk about the perfect storm that the rest of the world finally opened their eyes to and the onion was peeled back of the systemic racism that has plagued the black community since [inaudible 00:02:51], as they say, landed on us. And here we are… And I go back to Dade County and we talk about a disparity study that hasn’t happened because of the lack of information that wasn’t gathered. But we know there’s a disparity. We know that there’s systemic issues and policies that keep us from advancing. So to me, it’s about how do we move past that? And we definitely can’t move past that with the person that sits in at the White House right now. He should be removed for dereliction of duty. And I really mean that. He’s incompetent, he’s not a leader, he’s a bully, and we need to do everything that we can do to get you and vice president Biden elected. I stand here with you to help make that happen.
Eric Knowles: (22:51)
What I see what we need to do, obviously access to capital has always been a problem in the black community. When the pandemic hit, technical assistance, a lot of the black businesses did not have their books, or as we say, their back of the house in order, and they still don’t have their back of the house in order to provide the technical assistance, to provide the information that they needed to access the PP team, access to EIDL, or even the state emergency funds. So we still have those problems with our businesses that cannot fill out the paperwork or did not have the proper information to fill out the paperwork.
Eric Knowles: (23:35)
Some of the things that I see that we can do to help move this forward. I talk about a mentor-protégé programs. Mentor-protégé is where large corporations are made to participate in bringing smaller corporations that have been in business, but need that leg up to help them move up and to scale. So, Jackson hospital here in Miami did a mentor-protégé program. You cannot build a hospital or do business in a hospital or do construction in a hospital unless you are ACA certified. So what Jackson Hospital did, they had a $1.2 or $2 billion bond project in which they were building new hospitals, renovating the existing Jackson, but they made it a mentor-protégé program. They had two major contractors, but they brought in five protégés. So now those protégés, three of them happened to be members of the chamber, now they have gone through the process of doing hospital work and now they are qualified and can do this work.
Eric Knowles: (24:44)
The other thing that I want to talk about is P3s, public-private partnerships. Policies should be put in place both federally, statewide, and local, if it is a P3 project that it has to have a mentor-protégé program. So to me, how do we move the needle? Those are some of the answers that I have. All of our businesses have been hurting here in Miami-Dade County. Restaurants are closed. And you know, in our community, a lot of our businesses are barbershops, beauty salons, service type businesses.
Eric Knowles: (25:19)
And the other thing I want to talk about is the five year look-back on felons. Felons could not access the PPP program because of the five year look-back. That either needs to be removed or reduced to a maximum of two years. And I said two years, these are businesses men and women who have served their time and now they’ve come out and they were not able to access PPP money. They have employees, they’ve been running their businesses for number of years and they can’t access those monies that were there to support them.
Eric Knowles: (25:58)
The last thing I’ll say in terms of capital, we know the problem that happened the first round. All the large banks did not pay attention to the small businesses. So we need to make sure if there are, or my understanding, there’s still about $130 billion still left from the second round. So I’m not sure where that is. We need to make sure that those businesses in our area codes, ZIP codes, I’m sorry, have access to these monies. And that’s my perspective on it at this moment. And again, thank you for coming and sharing your time with us.
Kamala Harris: (26:37)
Thank you, Mr. Knowles. You raised a lot of very important points and I’ve taken notes. The access to capital piece, I couldn’t agree with you more. So, Joe and I have a plan that is about, as Mayor Wagar talked about, bill back better, all right? And that’s the theme of it. But when you break down what that means, it includes a number of things that are about helping small businesses, helping to encourage entrepreneurship. And doing that understanding, one of the best ways to do it is to provide access to capital for communities that have historically been denied access to capital intentionally or just through neglect. So part of our plan is to invest $150 billion. And that’s going to be new capital for small businesses with an emphasis on Community Development Financial Institutions, CDFIs.
Kamala Harris: (27:35)
To your point, the PPP overlooked… The last number I saw, 90% of minority and women owned businesses did not get a benefit from the PPP because to your point, they don’t have the relationships with the big banks so that the fancy banker calls up Mr. Smith and says, “Yo, this thing is about to come down. I’ve got all the paperwork filled out for you. You just need to sign it and you’ll be in line.” To your point about the beauty salon, the barber shop, the florist, one of my constituents got in touch with me and said, “Look, I have a beauty salon, but they want me to fill out all these documents about my vendors. Well, I get my products at the beauty supply store. So that’s not going to… That’s not the way I do business. So how am I going to be able to actually access the help that I as a small business owner need?”
Kamala Harris: (28:36)
And so Joe and I have talked extensively about this in terms of what we need to do, one, in terms of recovery from COVID and lifting back up our small businesses, but also what we need to do moving forward to invest in the natural entrepreneurship that exists in our communities that needs to be cultivated and supported in every way, through mentorship. And so that’s part of how we are designing it that as part of the federal support, there would be that kind of mentorship that you described, but it also would be about encouraging private equity to do greater investment in our communities.
Kamala Harris: (29:21)
And to put a fine point on how many people would be impacted by this discussion that you and I are having, it is estimated that 50% of American workers either work for a small business or run a small business. So we’re talking about a lot of folks. And so I appreciate that. We are also looking at what we need to do to build back up community around issues like home ownership, right? Which we all know. And you look at it here in Florida, in Miami, and so many places in our country with the history of red lining, the history of black families being excluded from the government opportunities, from the GI Bill going on, to have that leg up for homeownership. And part of our plan is a $15,000 credit for families for down payment and closing costs, because of course, homeownership is part of intergenerational wealth. And I’ll let the conversation continue, but there are more things to discuss in this area. And I appreciate what you’re saying. Thank you.
Crystal Wagars: (30:28)
Thank you Mr. Knowles, thank you Senator Harris. Next we have president Jaffus Hardrick. He’s the president of this wonderful university in which we’re sitting in, Florida Memorial University, a historically black university. And we welcome you today. Tell us a little bit about yourself. And you have the floor, sir.
Jaffus Hardrick: (30:47)
Thank you so much, mayor. Let me just say, first of all, congratulations to a Senator Kamala and vice president, Joe Biden, on their quest to become the next leaders of our great nation. On behalf of the students, the faculty staff, and our board of trustees, we welcome you. Thank you for visiting us. And I’m really elated that you enjoyed The Roar, the band. And believe it or not, they are new. I just started that program. And they are really good. They are doing a phenomenal job. And these are students, again, who like so many others, we’re not really sure college was the place for them. And so it’s opportunities like that really that inspires them to want to attend college. And so I think all of us know that the situation we’re in, we then have to be here, is the reality.
Jaffus Hardrick: (31:49)
And so this past academic year was certainly unlike any in our history as the novel coronavirus pandemic impacted our world in unprecedented ways, and especially right here in our own country. Back in early March, the pandemic forced so many colleges and universities to pivot and to make drastic changes in our traditional modalities of delivering instructions. And I think all of us know that many of these universities, even the most wealthiest of our institutions, are feeling that impact. So can you imagine what our HBCUs are feeling like? What are the things that we quickly discovered as we made this transition? And that was the digital divide was even more pronounced. When we had to quickly move from, again, the traditional method of teaching to the online instructions, we realized that there were so many of our students who didn’t even have computers. And we quickly had to make arrangements with a technology company in our community in order to get devices for so many of our students. So I think we all know that the pandemic has really impacted us in ways beyond what we could even phantom. And as I indicated before, we didn’t have to be here. So Florida Memorial has been around for 141 years providing educational access for so many undeserving students. 90% of our students are first generation, low income students. And that means that we open up opportunities for these students to be able to come into our university. They come in many of them not prepared for college, but through the high touch and the nurturing environment that we provide to our students, we see them evolve and they become confident in their abilities to excel. And this university has produced many doctors, lawyers, judges, business owners, all over this country and have done phenomenal work and continue to do phenomenal work. So I’m very proud of what we’re doing here at our university.
Jaffus Hardrick: (34:05)
So when you think about HBCUs, again, we comprise 3% of educational institutions, but yet we’re producing about 80% of the graduates in our nation. And these are your future workforce development. And so we’re educating our students on, one, what it means to be highly competitive. How to create your own businesses. That’s one of my goals here is literally three goals is to, one, make sure that when our students graduate, that they’re able to get into top notch graduate programs, number two, they will be prepared with the skills necessary to compete in a global marketplace, or number three, they become entrepreneurs. And that’s why we’re putting programs in place now to really help our young men and young women think about economics. The other thing that I want to quickly talk about is just the injustice. Not only are we looking at a health disparity and pandemic, but there’s also a racial one. When you think about the racial unrest that is occurring in our nation, that divide that is happening in our nation, I think we should all be ashamed at this point. When we should be coming together, working collectively, we’re divided as a nation. And so one of the things we’re doing here is that we’ve launched the Florida Memorial Social Justice Institute to really begin to talk about a lot of these issues and address many of these racial issues that have literally devastated our nation, from economic injustice, the healthcare injustice, and the list goes on and on and on. Because we know that the pandemic itself has really impacted us in disproportionate ways.
Jaffus Hardrick: (36:02)
And I think some take advantage of that because they think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s really impacting only black people or brown people.” Well, you got to think about the fact that, like Eric talked about, it has caused thousands of businesses to close. It has caused millions to be unemployed today, and that means that they have no economy, no economics coming in. So of course, that impacts them trying to go to school. And so when you think about small institutions like us, we are literally working on a shoestring budget. We’re pulling out everything we can to make sure we keep our young men and young women in school so that they can complete and compete for opportunities in our nation. So, Florida Memorial is committed to those things. And so I’m looking forward to whatever we can do to make sure that we help continue to move our country and make our country better.
Kamala Harris: (37:05)
Thank you, Dr. Hardrick. I am a proud graduate of an HBCU.
Jaffus Hardrick: (37:09)
Kamala Harris: (37:12)
And I couldn’t agree with you more. It is the place where we nurture young people to see who they are and their role as part of leadership of our nation in whatever profession they choose. And Joe and I have talked extensively about what we need to do therefore to support our HBCUs as part of just the treasure of our nation. And so that includes $70 billion that will be dedicated to HBCUs to invest in all of the teaching programs, including the research work that happens at HBCUs, which will have a profound impact on just how we are addressing the African-American population in science and health and a number of things. In addition-
Kamala Harris: (38:03)
… in science and health and a number of things. In addition, we will, for families that have an income of less than $125,000, create tuition free for those students who are going to public schools and HBCUs, including private HBCUs. In addition, because as you and I know, a lot of our HBCU students decide to take on… maybe inspired by the Divine Nine and their relationship to that, and just in relation to the history of HBCUs, decide to take on a profession of service, which often does not pay as well as if they go into the private sector and do other things. So, for those students who come out and have jobs that pay less than 125,000, student loan debt will also be forgiven.
Kamala Harris: (38:54)
And then, also, free two year college, because we know that for so many of our students who may not attend an HBCU, but maybe the family members, we want to support our young people for whatever they pursue by way of education after high school, and for some, that will be a college and university. For some, it will be a two year program or an apprenticeship or something of that nature and we want to make sure that we support them in that quest. So, thank you, I appreciate you.
Dr. Hardwick: (39:23)
Crystal Wagars: (39:26)
Well, we’re looking forward to that plan. As a granddaughter of a woman who went to an HBCU and raised me up and is a sister of a brother who went to a very proud HBCU, this is exciting news. Very good. Thank you for all the hard work you’re doing Dr. Hardwick. Next, we have Pastor Rhonda Thomas. She’s a powerhouse woman, and was ordained in 2006 and she’s facilitates powerful conferences for women youth across Florida, Georgia, and The Bahamas. Pastor Thomas, the floor is yours, and welcome.
Rhonda Thomas: (40:00)
Okay. Thank you. Good afternoon. I do want to start by first saying thank you, I guess I’m going to prophetically speak, Vice President Harris. Thank you for being the example in giving black women hope, being an example of giving black girls hope. You stand out in a way like no other, and we appreciate you and all that you’ve done. And we know the plan that you have and the plan that God has given you. I stand in a twofold way as a pastor, my husband and I are the founders of our ministry, which is not that far from here, for over 30 years. And then, I stand as the first black woman to serve as the executive director for Faith in Florida, which we are a statewide organization where we organize multi-faith, multi-racial clergy around racial and economic justice.
Rhonda Thomas: (41:01)
My daughter is a graduate of an HBCU, Florida A&M University. When she went there, I had no idea that she would be considered a hero. She serves as an ICU nurse at Jackson hospital. From March until now all she’s had his COVID patients. My younger brother came out of retirement as a paramedic to get on the front line, who now serves as a hero. And then, my nephew, who is a firefighter. So, that’s three from my immediate family who still on the front line fighting to help others for an administration that failed us, in Miami, in particular, where I’m born and raised, seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly, but a city that I love, not just a pastor [inaudible 00:04:06]. This administration unfortunately failed communities who has often felt left out from the beginning or before the pandemic actually hit. The work that I do is to encourage and bring forth a beloved community where we will all feel a sense of belonging.
Rhonda Thomas: (42:32)
Unfortunately, we have been failed on every level, whether it’s those who experienced unemployment, and when those that are unemployed, that affects the black church, because that’s the way we survive, regardless of the size of the church. And our churches still have not opened. I have taught more clergy how to click Zoom, and that has been an experience, starting with my own husband. But it’s been a failure on every level. My job, along Faith in Florida, we have provided in Miami-Dade County, myself has delivered, every person that is incarcerated, PPE and the correction officers. That’s every county jail in Dade County, because they lacked the basics of what all of us needed, which was masks and hand sanitizer. And then, the prisons start calling, because the women prison in Homestead, out of 668 women, 600 was tested positive with COVID-19. This very district, we provided every high school and every student and teacher masks so when our schools open, our young people will have masks and hand sanitizer.
Rhonda Thomas: (44:24)
The day that my daughter called to say a whole family died, and the only person that was left that survived was the 11 year old son… The grandparents died, both parents died. It’s a system that failed us. Many did not have health care. When she called to say that the hospital [mall 00:44:57] was so full. It’s a system that failed us as black people. When they are trying to force our children to go to school. It’s a system, it’s a consistent failing. And even the church itself, who is not open, who cannot give the counseling and the aide to parents, we’re literally turning families down because we can’t host a funeral. It’s a system that has failed us on every level. I don’t know if you have the answers to this failed system, but we need the answers. We need hope. We need to know that this too shall pass. So, that’s my remarks for now.
Kamala Harris: (45:48)
Oh, pastor. Right. These are those moments where we must walk by faith. We do have some of the answers. So, Joe Biden and I have made a commitment that we will, one, listen to the scientists and embrace the truth of the nature of this public health pandemic and do what the scientists have said from the beginning is necessary. We need a national plan for testing, and we need to implement it. And implementation of a national plan for contact tracing. The implementation of a national plan for making sure all people have access to treatment. I have a bill that is part of our national plan that is about… It’s Racial Disparities Task Force, which would be put in place immediately to do the analysis of where the racial disparities are so that when we are talking about the distribution of resources, we are guided by the principles of equity, knowing that not everyone starts from the same place, and we want everyone to end up in the same place, with equal access.
Kamala Harris: (47:11)
And our plan is also about, God willing, as soon as we get a safe and effective vaccine, a national plan for how that is going to be distributed, understanding that there is a big difference between having a vaccine and folks getting vaccinated. So, you are right. The system has failed so many people. The 190,000 souls, most of whom did not have a burial, so many of whom… I know here in Florida, I think 40% of the people who have died were seniors, whose families could not be with them in their final days of life, that our country is grieving the loss of jobs, the loss of life, the loss of normalcy, the loss of consistency, and in many cases, the loss of hope. And Joe and I talk about that all the time, and we need leadership that sees and recognizes the suffering and is prompted, then, to be guided by truth and fact, and not what is in their political self-interest, which is what we have seen in Donald Trump. So, thank you for sharing that. And to your family, your daughter, thank them, please.
Rhonda Thomas: (48:46)
I will. Thank you.
Crystal Wagars: (48:47)
Thank you. Next step, we have Mr. Ruben Roberts, the current president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP. Mr. Roberts, the floor is yours.
Ruben Roberts: (48:59)
Thank you. Hello. Can you hear me? First of all, I would like to say thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity to speak to you about issues that are pertinent to our community. I am deeply honored and privileged to be here with you and the esteemed panelists, all of whom I’ve had some experience with, so you definitely chosen well. I want to share with you the concerns about what’s going on from the people perspective in Miami-Dade County.
Ruben Roberts: (49:33)
One of the issues that we have is definitely an economic issue. So, you have a lot of essential workers, people worked in restaurants, people work on the front lines, who were one paycheck away from being homeless. That exists, but now there are multiple paychecks without being able to pay for housing. So, this is a major issue for us. We’re thankful for the moratoriums that have been put in place to help people to stay in their homes while they’re there, but we know that there’s going to become a day of reckoning when all of those past due bills are due. And so, I’m wanting to hear, what’s the plan to address those issues for those folks who were in that situation, whose children are dependent on them to have the shelter and housing and to be fed? We’re very grateful, as well, for the food sharing programs, because most of these folks who are not bringing in any income could not feed their families had it not been for the food sharing programs, so we’re grateful for that. Want to hear about the plans for those types of things, as well.
Ruben Roberts: (50:50)
In addition to economics, in terms of the families, there’s also the business component to it. And so, for years, you’d hear people saying that, “We’d love to have a seat at the table,” or, “We would love to be invited to the party.” I just was on a Zoom last night, and a gentlemen mentioned that it’s not enough just to be invited to the party, we have to be asked to dance, as well. So, I would love to see what that looks like in terms of how we’re participating, not just at sitting at the table or going to the party, but how we’re being interactive in terms of our dance.
Ruben Roberts: (51:35)
One of the things I would encourage you to do, you and Mr. Biden, Vice President Biden, is to lead by example, by making sure that in your campaign, you’re hiring black vendors. Every state, every city, every county, make sure that there’s a commitment and budgetary items where you will be hiring black vendors. Black people hire black people. If you do that, you will pass on those dollars, those resources where those families who are in need can definitely benefit from. So, that’s something I would encourage you guys to do.
Ruben Roberts: (52:24)
The other thing, I think, that there’s a missing element that’s not been spoken of a lot, where almost 200,000 deaths, so all of us in some way, due to COVID-related deaths, have been impacted by COVID. And so, one of the things that we’re really not talking about is the PTSD and the mental health piece. And so, the federal government has deeply cut mental health programs and things of that nature, and one of the things that we need to look at is how do we address these issues for the parents who are stressed out and full of anxiety, because they don’t know what tomorrow hold, they don’t know how long this is going to last. Parents who want to send their kids to college, parents who wants to send their kids to school, parents who don’t know how they’re going to make ends meet going on in the future.
Ruben Roberts: (53:23)
Those mental health issues are real. We have to address those issues. Not only from the parental standpoint or the community standpoint, but for the workforce standpoint, as well. People are going to be asking folks to come to work as normal, but not even addressing or having anything in place for them to process what they’ve experienced in terms of a loss of a loved one, a significant person in your family, loss of property, loss of whatever it is that you’ve lost, how to deal with the anxiety. Our workforce, our educational system is going to be deeply impacted by those mental health issues that we definitely need to address.
Ruben Roberts: (54:14)
And so, I courage you to have some sort of answer for that, because we don’t know when this end is going to happen, and the uncertainty is real. I was pleased to hear about the programs that you have in place about higher education and making sure the first two years of college is free. I like to see you come up with a plan to forgive student loans for those who’ve been out of school for a while but struggle, because you have a segment of the population who can’t even purchase their first home. They have a nice job, but they’re so indebted in terms of their student loans, they can’t even purchase their first home. So, we need to make a way for those folks to be able to pay into the system through their taxes by paying for those homes, and we need to have some sort of forgiveness on that.
Ruben Roberts: (55:05)
The other thing I heard that you mentioned I thought was so very important, we need to save our HBCU. We have one of the best presidents of an HBCU right here today, and this institution has grown by leaps and bounds under his leadership, and it will continue to grow, I’m certain. But not only do we need for those dollars available for students, but we need, also, developmental dollars so that they can build more dormitories, they can build more facilities for their students. We also need, in addition to those research dollars that you spoke of, we need dollars that are coming from SAMHSA and NIDA, where they are intentionally reaching out to HBCU’s black people in the areas of behavioral health and sciences are the most researched people in the world. And so, who better to lead those research than an HBCU?
Ruben Roberts: (56:07)
So, in addition to those dollars, as you give dollar [inaudible 00:56:11] NIDA, SAMHSA, and such, CSAP, some of those dollars should be earmarked where they are going to be working with an HBCU. I would love to see, under your administration, that you develop a council with these HBCU presidents and work with them to help them to get more involved in research, and to get more involved in to having evidence based programming or studies at their institutions. Challenge is you can’t afford to have the latest information because you’re just on a shoe string shoestring budget, so we need to resolve that issue as much as possible. And finally, social justice. Well, social justice and housing. Social justice, I know there’s not much you can do in terms of-
Ruben Roberts: (57:02)
I know there’s not much you can do in terms of helping to solve the problem of people who have hatred in their heart, to see other people who may be different from them as human. And that’s a major problem that we have right now, the basic feeling of … or the basic of being recognized as human. I often say, ” When they see us as human they’ll treat us as human.” And I think that since the advent of George Floyd and so many other incidents that we’ve seen, which shows that they’re not shying away from the violence, in your state, there’s still hangings that are unsolved. I mean, lynchings that are unsolved, that happened recently. So, I want to say this, and in terms of police reform, in terms of anyone that does business with the federal government, if they are hate-based or hate-related, they should not be eligible to do business with them.
Ruben Roberts: (58:11)
We need tracking systems in place for those rogue officers. I believe that the majority of our police officers are doing well, but those that one or 2% or whatever the percentage is, they have a disregard for life, liberty, people of different backgrounds, Black people, or people of color. Those people, need to have their law license revoked. The process is there, for that to happen on state levels, but it’s not followed. And I think that the federal government should intervene on that level, as well, to make sure that whenever you have an officer that is charged with these heinous crimes, that their due process is followed. All the way up into, looking at not only getting them prosecuted, but making sure that they’re not able to serve in that role of someone who has sworn to protect and serve, because they’re they don’t have that honor. And so, they should not be in that position.
Ruben Roberts: (59:17)
And finally, housing. We’ve been priced out here in South Florida. You have a workforce, you have a labor force that can’t afford to live within 20 miles of where they work. And so, people have to travel/commute from one County to the next, in order for them to survive, where rents and mortgages may be a little bit cheaper. Federal government programs, like you said, the down payment assistant programs, but not only that, we need to find some other way of assisting different local municipalities or counties, to ensure that there are places for a low income housing in cities like Miami. The issue that we’ve had, and we continue to have, is that wages have stayed stagnant for over 30/40 years. If you look at what a teacher makes now coming out of college today, versus what they were making, coming out of college 30 years ago, you may see a very small incremental growth. But at the same time, the cost of living and the cost of everything else, has grown exponentially.
Ruben Roberts: (01:00:39)
And so, these are the challenges that we face, and this is something that we really need to look into and see how we can resolve these issues with stagnant wages and the ever increasing costs of everything else that we need to have. Those are the questions that I have and comments. And also, again, I think that you are such a great role model for my niece. I don’t have a daughter, but I have nieces. I am from The Bahamas, my mother’s American. So for all of the Caribbean, all of the [inaudible 01:01:17], we definitely appreciate you and what you represent and what you bring to this ticket. And we encourage you to continue to do the good work and be that shining star that you’ve shown yourself to be. I’ve seen you in those Senate hearings, and I mean, you made me proud every time. So I’m going to continue to encourage you to do the same. And I’m looking forward to what’s happening after November. I’m looking forward for what’s to come. Thank you.
Kamala Harris: (01:01:51)
Thank you, Mr. Roberts. For all that, you have highlighted, there’s a lot there. I’m not going to attempt at this moment to unpack it all, but I’ve taken extensive notes and I look forward to us continuing this conversation and following up. Because not only have you identified the problems, but you also are offering great ideas for solutions. So, I want to make sure that I follow up with you. I will talk about one of the many things you talked about just as a point of emphasis, about what’s at stake in this election and that is the future of healthcare in America.
Kamala Harris: (01:02:28)
So, president Barack Obama together with Vice-president Joe Biden, did what was probably one of the most innovative and substantial public policy reforms that we’ve seen in modern history, with the creation of the Affordable Care Act. It reformed substantially how we do health care delivery and who has access to it in our country. Donald Trump has Bill Barr in court right now, attempting to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act created access to over 20 million people who otherwise did not have it. It allowed … We talk about our students and the concern that young people are coming out of high school and college right now that they may not have jobs. One of the things the Affordable Care Act did is, it said that up to 26 years old, you can be on your parents’ coverage. We talk about long standing health disparities in terms of race. And we know that COVID preys on people with preexisting conditions. And for us, that’s about diabetes, it’s about high blood pressure, it’s about asthma, all of that.
Kamala Harris: (01:03:55)
If they are successful in trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, it means that it will come back as a policy, that if you have a preexisting condition, you can be denied coverage. Understand that COVID, we still don’t really know the longterm health impact to the human body, if you are one of those over 6 million people who contracted the virus, but through God’s grace lived. Things like lung scarring, which going forward, would be considered potentially a preexisting condition for which you could be denied coverage, if Donald Trump has his way. Joe Biden on the other hand, not only would keep the Affordable Care Act intact, but has as a major priority that we would expand coverage under the Affordable Care Act, including mental health care. Because I couldn’t agree with you more, the undiagnosed and therefore untreated trauma that people were experiencing before this pandemic, I’ve longed worked on this issue in terms of the children growing up in poverty, which by the way, poverty is trauma inducing. Growing up in communities where there are high rates of violence because of poverty, that is trauma inducing.
Kamala Harris: (01:05:19)
Our children are not being diagnosed and therefore not treated. We have as a public healthcare system, long been under some misconstrued notion that health care means addressing the body from the neck down. Instead of wondering, we also need healthcare from the neck up, right? You recognize somebody if they broke their arm and say, “Oh, can I sign your cast? Can I open the door for you?” But we don’t do that in terms of mental health care. So Joe and I have talked extensively about it, and this is one of our priorities, but I do want to connect it to also this election. And what’s at stake in the next 54 days, because if Donald Trump has his way, there could be at least 20 million people who almost immediately will lose their coverage, including all those folks with preexisting conditions, much less what we can do to expand coverage, including an emphasis on mental health care.
Kamala Harris: (01:06:17)
So let’s follow up on all of the other points that you made, but I do want to thank everybody for the time and for the thought and for the continuing conversation that we will have. And I’ll turn it back to the mayor.
Crystal Wagars: (01:06:28)
Well, thank you, Senator Harris. Were those your concluding remarks or would you like to take us out with some concluding remarks before I thank everyone for their time this afternoon?
Kamala Harris: (01:06:39)
Yeah. My concluding remarks are that everything that has been mentioned here, this is about … and the reason that we are doing this is that the American people deserve to be seen and heard. And if their government is going to be at all relevant to their lives, it is because we do this in response to their needs. And the thing about Joe Biden is that he understands that the expression of strength of a human being and of a leader is not measured by who you beat down, it’s measured by who you lift up, especially in times of crisis like this one. And so, that is a large part of what motivates us to be here and to work as hard as we possibly can over the next 54 days. Florida, last day to register is October 5th, early voting will start sometime in October, I don’t have the date in front of me.
Kamala Harris: (01:07:43)
We encourage everyone to vote early, as early as the law allows you to do. And I will remind folks that there are all kinds of obstacles. We know that here in Florida and throughout our country, that have been put in the way of trying to get Black folks not to vote, students not to vote, Native American our indigenous brothers and sisters, not to vote. Those obstacles are present and we’re going to have to work around them. We’re going to have to surmount them, but let’s be prepared, that there are a lot of folks who have so much at stake and the reason that we need to vote, is of course, about honoring the ancestors, including the most recent John Lewis, who shed his blood on that Edmund Pettus bridge.
Kamala Harris: (01:08:37)
But the other reason we need to vote is this, I encourage people to sit back and ask, why are they putting so many obstacles in the way of my ability to vote? Why are they doing this? From the days of requiring folks to count how many jelly beans were in that jar to qualify to express their voice through their vote? Why are they doing this? And I think the answer is very clear, because they know when we vote, things change. And there in lies our power, which we should never let anyone take from us.
Kamala Harris: (01:09:22)
So, this is my concluding remarks to all of the friends and family in Miami Dade and in Florida, let’s never let anybody take our power from us. We have too much to do, and our country is worth this fight that is in front of us. So with that, I thank you all, all of you for being here. And mayor, I’ll pass it over to you.
Crystal Wagars: (01:09:43)
And thank you. Thank you, Senator Harris, future vice-president of the United States of America. I want to thank everybody that’s been here with us today and I want to summarize, sort of very quickly what we’ve heard. We’ve heard access to capital, economic recovery. We’ve heard aid to HBC use. We’ve heard recognizing the value of higher education. There’s a system that has failed us. People are losing their families and their lives in a situation that did not have to be. We need access to healthcare, that must continue. So what I’ve heard is that the Biden/Harris administration, has a plan for all of this. They have a plan for a system that has failed us.
Crystal Wagars: (01:10:25)
We want to be invited to the party, but we also want to be able to be asked to dance. So, we would like to be led by someone and a team and an administration that has the courage to speak the truth, for the benefit of all of us in this country. So on behalf of myself, who was the daughter of a strong woman and a strong Black woman, who was trying to raise two little strong Black women, I thank you. I thank you on behalf of our community in Miami, Florida. Thank you for being with us today. Thank you to all of our panelists. Congressman Wilson, thank you for your wise comments and all of your leadership all these years, we appreciate you. Thank you to everyone who’s been watching this evening. Remember, the last day to register to vote is October 5th. Plan your vote, and thanks for joining us today, everyone. Thank you. Thank you very much.