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Opinion: Time is now for a Black woman vice president

Pamela L. Pugh

As a Michigan statewide elected official, I stand united with Black women and others from across this country who demand presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden select a Black woman as his running mate.

The Black women who have been named as possible picks have invaluable lived experiences in addition to impeccable careers. This country deserves a vice president who is ready, on day one, to stand up for all people and help to move America out of this place of health, economic and racial crisis.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer does not compare in qualifications with the others being considered for the position.

Sen. Kamala Harris, left, Joe Biden, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Cory Booker join hands on stage.

Whitmer has often reneged on campaign promises. Here in Michigan, our communities have had to exhaust great energy and resources to convince her to do what’s just and right even though Black voters decisively carried over the finish line to get her elected. While the country has come to know Whitmer for her response to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us here have witnessed her as governor who has often chosen political expediency over the campaign promises she made as a candidate. 

Benton Harbor residents, living in one of our country’s most economically segregated communities, had to fight against Whitmer shuttering its mostly Black school district’s only high school and attempt to bus the children to neighboring white schools.

It was only after the office of Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel issued an opinion that Whitmer did not have authority to close Benton Harbor’s only high school that she halted the closure and began working with the district. 

In Detroit, Whitmer shockingly sidestepped statements she made as a candidate in support of equitable education and petitioned to dismiss a class-action lawsuit filed by seven Detroit student plaintiffs seeking a basic right to literacy, classrooms with books, teachers and school buildings with heat in winter or air conditioning in summer.

Whitmer did not agree to settle the case until after great pressure from Black leaders and education activists was applied.  

Whitmer has also not fulfilled promises made to the residents of Flint. As a candidate, she announced that she and the state would restore bottled water until the water pipes were replaced. She vowed to reinstate a board that was intended to bring about transparency as decisions were made related to Flint’s recovery. However, Flint residents, over a year later, are yet awaiting fulfillment of the promises she made as a candidate.   

During this pivotal and historic time in which we find ourselves, I am reminded of our Black sisters — those Black women suffragists who fought for the voting rights of others while yet being sidelined by the movement itself and long excluded from its benefits. I am reminded of the countless African American women who have been the front-line workers, or caregivers for front-line workers, building this country. 

I am reminded of strong and wise Black women, like my mother and her grandmother, who served with great dignity and pride as the help for White women, helping them raise their children and keep their households in order. I am hopeful that the Democratic Party is reminded of our sisters who have long served as advisers, speechwriters, interpreters — still the cleanup, or the help, for so many great men and women who have led and currently lead this nation. 

We should all be reminded that in 2016, with 94% of Black women voting for Hillary Clinton and 53% of White women voting for Donald Trump, we were the Democrats’ strongest voting bloc. It is hard to imagine how Biden, without a Black woman on the ticket, will get over the finish line. 

Know that the world, younger generations and women in general are watching to see if Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are ready to move Black women from “the help” to second in command of this great nation. 

A Biden ticket must include a Black woman as running mate.

Pamela Pugh, D-Saginaw, is vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education and former chief public health adviser for the city of Flint. She is a delegate for the upcoming Democratic National Convention.