Launching a Social Justice Reform Initiative

The National Racial Equity Initiative for Social Justice (NREI) strives to level the playing field for Black communities

As demands for social justice reverberated throughout cities across the nation last spring, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) — a nonprofit organization that strives to advance the global Black community by developing leaders, informing policy and educating the public — responded with a new initiative to support racial equity.

How the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is Supporting Racial Equity 

Through the newly formed National Racial Equity Initiative for Social Justice (NREI), CBCF will: 

  • Place three John R. Lewis Social Justice Policy Fellows in the U.S. Congress for two years, who will work in CBCF member offices and various congressional committees related to social justice.
  • Establish social justice scholarships for students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
  • Advance racial equity and human rights in research, data, analysis, and public policy related to criminal justice reform.

“CBCF is answering the global call for action to honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others in our country’s past — even predating Jim Crow — who have reached their demise at the hands of law enforcement or imprisonment due to a failed justice system,” says Cedric L. Richmond, former chair of the CBCF's Board of Directors who is currently serving as Senior Advisor to President Biden and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. “Our new initiatives will advance educational opportunities for Black students and explore reform through the policy lens of education, economic opportunity, incarceration, the courts and law enforcement.”

Among the areas of most pressing concern for the NREI will be developing evidence-based, solutions-driven policies targeted to reduce racial disparities evoked by racism and discrimination. 

  • For example, according to The Sentencing Project, people of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population, but 67 percent of the prison population. 

Expanding Social Justice Reform and Giving Opportunities to Passionate Students

Beyond criminal justice reform, the NREI will explore policy in economic opportunity, education, and healthcare. 

The NREI expands on the work the CBCF has been doing since its inception to offer scholarships and paid fellowships and internships to students. According to the CBCF, it has put more Black interns on Capitol Hill than any other organization in the U.S. 

“Being a visionary is one thing, but we need to find resources to encourage young people who are already committed to social activism to be rewarded for that — especially if they're in college,” says Menna Demessie, Senior Vice President of Policy Analysis & Research at CBCF’s Leadership Institute. “We’re creating a pipeline for those folks to go on to be amazing leaders in the policy field and beyond.”

This initiative launched in June 2020 and is funded by organizations including Capital One. 

“CBCF has a storied tradition of lending its voice and resources to advance the needs of communities that have long been overlooked, and the NREI is the latest innovation to advance that work,” says Joe Vidulich, Director of Government Relations at Capital One. “Capital One is very excited to be a part of that journey and contribute to the CBCF’s mission to create equitable opportunities for students of color.”

That support comes as part of Capital One’s initial $200 million, multi-year commitment to advance socioeconomic mobility through the Capital One Impact Initiative

Launched in October 2020, the Capital One Impact Initiative seeks to create a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper through advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives.

Capital One will help fund the NREI over the next five years and strives to create opportunities for students of color across the nation in an effort to continue to bend the arc of history toward justice. 

One such rising leader is Jared Lewis, a John R. Lewis Social Justice Fellow currently working on Capitol Hill with the Congressional Black Caucus Diversity Tech Taskforce to help shape a regulatory agenda as it relates to technology and Black people. 

His background in both community organizing for social change and in the private sector have focused on expanding equity at the intersection of technology, economic development and social identities.

Having received his Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis was caring for his grandfather and had resigned himself to postponing his professional and scholarly dreams until at least 2021 — until he heard about the launch of the CBCF’s new fellowship program. 

“At this point in my life, I don’t think there is a more perfect role for me than this CBCF fellowship,” Lewis said. “This fellowship has convinced me of the need to be intentional about underinvested and underrepresented communities, particularly in rural parts of the country, and their relationship to technology.”

As Lewis confronts questions surrounding technology and its implications on society during that fellowship and beyond, creating a more equitable society for all is at the forefront of his focus.

“In the same way that I landed this fellowship, who knows where my path will lead,” Lewis said. “I just want to help advance the work on racial and economic equity and incorporate the lived experiences of people from all walks of life.” 

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