Mayor's Office Press Release
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, President of African American Mayors Association Brings Powerful Array of Leaders to Their Annual Meeting
April 29, 2022 -- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the President of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), this week presided over their Annual Meeting here in Washington, DC.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led off the opening of the meeting at a breakfast where she identified with the mayors by reminding them that she was born into a mayors' house since both her father, Tommy D'Alesandro Jr., and brother, Tommy D'Alesandro III, were Mayors of Baltimore.
She was quite clear as to what her intentions were with the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided $65.1 billion directly to all cities. She remarked that the Senate was full of former governors and that she fought to get that money delivered directly to mayors of cities large, medium, and small.
She lamented over the fact that Congress did not pass the Voting Rights Act named after Atlanta Congressman John Lewis and raised questions as to what the Supreme Court may due to further weaken the voting rights of Americans, changing and removing federal involvement of voting rights as outlined by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed during President Lyndon Johnson's administration.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg brought the message of equity that will be used in administering the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure law, signed into law by President Joe Biden last fall. He talked about how past transportation funding and policies have divided our cities and indeed, our nation. He referred to the Interstate Highway System which split neighborhoods into those who lived on one aside and another "on the other side of the tracks." He continued to assure mayors assembled that he will, with President Biden's help, do everything he can to make sure the funds and projects will be distributed and granted with an equity lens that has never been done before.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn recalled that at an earlier time of his life, he was a history teacher. He said he reminded his students while things happened in the past, in our history, that we have to be mindful that they can happen again. The reason we study and are aware of the history and past actions is to be on guard to prevent those actions that set us back from happening again.
He told of how at the age of 19, along with the late John Lewis, the same age, they met the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. as they were founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinated Committee (SNCC). Of all of Dr. King's writings, his books, essays, and other published materials, Clyburn says he believed Dr. King's letter from the Birmingham Jail in April 1963 was the most important. He reminded us that the handwritten King letter was in response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders. They had called Dr. King's activities in Birmingham "unwise and untimely." They had referred to "outsiders coming in." Clyburn said they thought King was moving too fast and he should wait. King wrote in his letter, "I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a government of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with a narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider within its bounds."
Clyburn's message to the mayors was that we must move forward. We must not go slow or wait like the white moderate religious leaders were telling Dr. King. Clyburn's remarks were focused on gains made but he warned that gains may be lost. He said, "What happened once, could happen again." And he said to the mayors that their time was now and to keep pushing for our future. It was different in that he didn't go into all the legislation and what has been accomplished.
He was the teacher giving his "students" a historical lesson.
Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Turner's Congresswoman, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge all spoke too. Their messages, though different, all had a theme of using the record amount of funds from ARPA and the Infrastructure Law to make historical programs for our cities and the people of our nation. It was an onslaught of messages of hope and progress to our future.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined Houston Mayor Turner in a special armchair discussion on corporate responsibility with Brett Hart, the President of United Airlines. Mr. Hart pointed out that of the seven city hubs of United Airlines, six of those cities had African American mayors. Both Mayors Lightfoot and Turner agreed that cities cannot go it alone, they must have substantial corporate investments.
It was my pleasure and honor to have been a part of the AAMA Annual Conference. There's new energy from this organization and we all are thankful for Mayor Turner's leadership. And we congratulate Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott who assumed the Presidency this week.
At the headliner dinner on Thursday night, former Columbia, SC Mayor, Past President of the United States Conference of Mayors, and a Founder of the African American Mayors Association, Steve Benjamin received the 2022 President's Award for Service to AAMA.
President Joe Biden also addressed the mayors via video from the White House, thanking mayors for their continued partnership with the ARPA law, the Infrastructure Law, and other achievements since he took office in January 2021. Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to be there in person but her very recent diagnosis of being COVID-positive prevented her from doing so.
The theme of the meeting was "The Time For Transformation In Our Cities." We are most thankful for the courtesies extended by Mayor Turner and Phyllis Dickerson, the Chief Executive Officer of the African American Mayors Association.