BET caught up with Akunna Cook, the executive director of the Black Economic Alliance (BEA), a coalition of business leaders and aligned advocates committed to economic progress and prosperity in the Black community. Akunna discussed the importance of the Black vote and the BEA’s efforts to advance policies that will improve work, wages and wealth for Black Americans.
This Sunday, June 16, BET will air a first of its kind presidential candidates forum hosted by the BEA, where top-tier democratic presidential candidates will share their vision for expanding economic opportunity for Black Americans.
BET: Take us back to the very beginning. How did the Black Economic Alliance get started?
Akunna Cook: These are tough times for Americans, but for Black Americans in particular. The Black Economic Alliance was started when a group of Black business leaders and advocates decided to leverage their votes and dollars to further the economic interests of the Black community. They recognized the Black community needed to demand accountability from the political system. So they convened a group of Black business leaders and Black political leaders and from that meeting, the idea to start this organization was born.
What makes the Black Economic Alliance unique, and what is your mission?
The Black Economic Alliance is a unique organization of donors, at all levels, focused on policy development, advocacy and supporting candidates who are committed to driving economic progress and increasing work, wages and wealth in Black communities. That starts with holding candidates and elected officials accountable for implementing data-driven and impactful public policies on behalf of our communities. We are tired of empty promises from politicians that lead to broken policies and expect our elected leaders to take decisive action.
What impact did the Black Economic Alliance have on the 2018 elections?
We are incredibly proud of our work in 2018 and the impact we had in such a short amount of time. BEA launched during the midterms, and we had a few goals. The first was to ensure Black economic issues were a central part of the conversation. BEA’s PAC supported candidates who prioritized our issues and helped elect nine new members of the House, including five new members of the largest Congressional Black Caucus in history. We also focused on turning out Black voters on behalf of our endorsed candidates and saw an 11% increase in Black voter turnout.
The Black Economic Alliance recently released findings of a nationwide survey on economic policy priorities for Black Americans. What did the research uncover?
The research — which was conducted by Hart Research and Brossard Research of 1,003 Black adults nationwide — found that despite signs of growth in the United States economy overall, Black Americans still see significant economic challenges in their own communities. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed — 81% of respondents — continue to believe that it is hard for Black Americans to achieve the American Dream today. To reverse trends that have led to economic disparities, Black Americans identified creating good-paying jobs with benefits and making sure people have the training and skills needed for the jobs of the future as top priorities for improving the economic and financial situations of Black Americans. You can find the full poll results here.
Tell us about the Presidential Candidates Forum taking place in Charleston, South Carolina, this weekend.
The country is in the middle of an exciting primary season as we head into 2020. The Black Economic Alliance is hosting a first of its kind presidential candidates forum in the key early primary state of South Carolina to ensure that Black economic issues are top of mind as the campaign proceeds. The forum will be moderated and executive produced by Soledad O’Brien and top-tier presidential candidates will present specific policy solutions to help Black Americans meaningfully participate in the economy. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) will be in attendance.
What can we expect from the Black Economic Alliance in 2020?
Make no mistake, Black voters will determine who sits in the White House and walks the halls of Congress, in both the House and Senate. We will build upon our 2018 efforts by advocating for policies that will lift up our communities. We will ensure all the candidates, regardless of party, prioritize our issues. And we will focus on turning out Black voters, ensuring that the critical infrastructure needed to get our communities to the polls are there early enough to make a difference, that our votes aren’t suppressed, and that our concerns about the economy are heard and addressed by policymakers and elected officials.
Tune in to the Presidential Candidates Forum televised exclusively on BET Networks on June 16 at 10:00 a.m. ET.
(Photo: Adam Kaz/Getty Images)