Biden pressing Congress to restore Voting Rights Act

Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in 2013. Civil rights icon Lewis is backing Biden for president.

President Biden, in remarks prepared for the Martin & Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast on Sunday, is calling on Congress to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

“In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, holding that times have changed and blatant voter discrimination was rare, contrary to the assault that was taking place on the ground,” Biden will say. “The late Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg wrote that the decision was like ‘throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm.’ Today, we have a hail storm, not a rain storm.”

Biden will also hail the unprecedented voter turnout seen in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, but condemn both the Jan.6 riots by former President Trump's at the U.S. Capitol attempting to overturn the results and proposed state legislation restricting voting.

The president’s remarks come on the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when Alabama state troopers tear-gassed and beat peaceful civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. The measure to restore the Voting Rights Act is named after the late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who suffered skull fractures in the incident. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law that August.

“A few days before he passed, Jill and I spoke with John, Congressman Lewis. But instead of answering our concerns about him, ‘how are you doing, John,’ he asked us to stay focused on the work left undone to heal and to unite this nation around what it means to be an American,” Biden will say at the breakfast. “That’s the God’s truth. John wouldn’t talk about his pending death or his concerns. He said we just got to get this done.”

Biden is also set to take executive action on voting access Sunday that will reduce voting barriers for groups such as Native Americans, people with disabilities, service members and overseas voters.

 

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Young Black Americans can’t afford to wait on this advice about wealth and success

In celebration of Black History Month, CNBC Invest in You is featuring weekly stories from CNBC contributors and members of the Financial Wellness Council, including the lessons they’ve learned growing up, their advice to Black youth, their inspirations and how they are working to close the racial wealth gap.

More needs to be done to help Black Americans achieve financial success, from increased financial literacy resources to realizing the unique power the next generation of Black Americans holds.

The pandemic has widened the gap between Black-owned businesses and their white counterparts. Black-owned businesses declined by 41% between February and April 2020, compared with a 17% decline among White-owned businesses. Recent research shows that Black Americans’ knowledge of saving and investing significantly lags behind whites.

Here’s advice from CNBC contributors and members of the CNBC Financial Wellness Council, including their recommendations to those in power and the Black youth of America.

Brandon Copeland, NFL player

Brandon Copeland, NY Jets Linebacker.

For New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Copeland, financial literacy won’t come to those who idle and wait. Instead, it is something people need to seek out.

“My advice to the next generation of Black Americans is to not wait for this information, but be proactive in seeking it out.”

Copeland, who graduated from and now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, has been a longtime advocate for increased financial literacy. His online course, Life101.io, helps students navigate the complex money decisions they will encounter throughout life.

“Take ownership of your financial education so that you can change not only your life but your family’s life for the better,” he recently told CNBC.

James McDonald, Hercules Investments

James McDonald

James McDonald on financial literacy and the racial wealth gap

Everyone learns differently, and for some, reading real-life success stories is key to financial success.

For James McDonald, a CNBC contributor, and founder and CEO of Hercules Investments, it was stories about financiers that encouraged him to pursue a career in finance.

“For me, reading about finance, reading about stories of financiers made a huge difference in empowering me to have the courage to pursue my own financial career,” he tells CNBC.

He also stressed the importance of financial literacy. “Get literate, understand finance, saving, investing and planning, and you will help close the racial wealth gap starting with yourself.”

Kourtney Gibson, Loop Capital Markets

Kourtney Gibson

Kourtney Gibson on embracing your superpower

If the next generation wants to succeed they need to turn to their superpower, according to Kourtney Gibson, president and partner at Loop Capital Markets.

“One piece of advice that I would give to the next generation of young Black people in this country is to be unapologetically Black. It is your superpower, it can be your superpower. It’s up to you to use it,” she says.

Gibson currently is a board member for Canada-based athletic apparel brand Lululemon. Lululemon is among the founding sponsors of the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Black Journalism Fellowship.

Akbar Gbajabiamila, ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Akbar Gbajabiamila: ‘Sometimes I wish I could just be the Black Financial Superman’

The co-host of “American Ninja Warrior” wishes he could be a superhero sometimes.

“I wish I could just be the Black Financial Superman and just go to everyone’s house and say, ‘Hey, here are the resources,’” he recently told CNBC.

Gbajabiamila, who played professional football for the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, added that there is a lack of trust in Black communities.

“There are too many people in my community that the highest level of investment that they know of are CDs [certificates of deposit],” he says. “We’ve got to tear down that wall. I want everybody to get in. I want everybody to win.”

More from Invest in You:
The smallest businesses are getting extra PPP help. What to know before applying
Black small-business owners are being left behind in the pandemic, survey finds
Black leaders offer several key steps to help close the racial wealth gap

Dewardic McNeal, managing director & senior policy analyst, Longview Global, LLc

Dewardric McNeal

Dewardic McNeal: ‘This is not a wealth gap. This is a wealth gulf’

Financial literacy alone will not be enough to close the racial wealth gap, or as Dewardic McNeal points out, the racial wealth gulf.

″$17,150, the median net worth for Black households; $171,000, that’s the median net worth for white households. This is not a wealth gap. This is a wealth gulf,” McNeal said, referencing data from a 2016 Fed survey—more recent data shows the median wealth of Black households at $24,100 in 2019, but the gap as wide as ever, with White households having median wealth of $188,200.

In order to close this gulf a number of steps must be taken including greater access to capital for Black-owned businesses, greater opportunities for employment and participation in the equity economy.

As of January, the unemployment rate for Black Americans was at 9.2% compared to 5.7% for white Americans, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Degas Wright,  Decatur Capital Management

Degas Wright

Degas Wright on the importance of perspective

Degas Wright, a former Captain in the United States Army, says outside of his family the biggest influence in his life was his time at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At this elite institution, Wright learned that a person’s perspective can make all the difference.

“I remember summer of my freshman year walking around with my roommate and he saw the buildings being gray, but I saw silver because I really wanted to be there. He dropped out after freshman year,” Wright recently told CNBC. “I was able to graduate. And I learned from that experience it’s all about your perspective that makes the difference.”

Only about 12% of nearly 12,000 applicants are accepted to West Point each year.

Wright is the founder and CEO of Decatur Capital Management

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Chuck Schumer Holds The Line

Chuck Schumer’s job as Senate majority leader is harder than Mitch McConnell’s ever was. He leads a smaller majority than the Kentucky Republican, and one with wildly different ideologies — from Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

As Friday’s meltdown in the Senate illustrated, Schumer has zero margin for error. A single defection in his caucus can hobble Democratic priorities in the evenly divided 50-50 Senate, especially when he’s trying to muscle through bills on a party-line vote.

After a grueling 24-hour session on the Senate floor with only three 20-minute naps in between, the New York Democrat was able to hold his party together and pass a massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill on Saturday that is chock-full of much-needed support for Americans struggling through the pandemic.

The lesson for Democrats going forward is clear, Schumer told HuffPost in an interview.

“If we [don’t] stay united, if [one] person says, ‘I’m only going to vote for it if it has this’ ... we lose,” Schumer said Saturday.

“But at the same time, we cannot be timid,” he said. “You know, I helped push [President Joe] Biden to have a bigger stimulus package.”

Schumer has suffered a few setbacks in his first month and a half on the job. The White House was forced to withdraw its nominee for a key cabinet agency earlier this month due to tepid support in the Senate, including among Democrats. The failed confirmation was Biden’s ― and Schumer’s ― first defeat since taking power earlier this year.

Friday’s chaos in the Senate, meanwhile, threatened to turn into an even bigger embarrassment. After voting began on amendments to the $1.9 trillion bill, it quickly became apparent that Democrats weren’t all aligned on the issue of extending enhanced unemployment benefits, which are due to expire March 14.

Manchin was considering voting for a Republican amendment that would have ended the benefits in July, far sooner than Democrats had initially proposed. Had he done so, House Democrats (whom party leaders hope will quickly pass the bill next week) may have objected, putting the entire package in jeopardy.

“We told him if Portman’s bill passed, it would be dead,” Schumer said. “It took him about three or four hours to realize that and when he did, he came back and said ‘OK, let’s work this out.’”

In the end, after nine hours of closed-door negotiations and the longest open Senate vote in modern history, Democrats were able to get Manchin back on board. The bill will provide a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit through Sept. 6 and forgive taxes on up to $10,200 in 2020 unemployment income for households that made less than $150,000.

Despite his last-minute demands scaling back some provisions of the bill, including the income threshold for the next round of stimulus checks, Democrats convincing Manchin to vote for $1.9 trillion in deficit spending is a huge deal. The West Virginia Democrat hails from a state that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election by a two-to-one margin. Moreover, outside of the Republican caucus, he’s one of the most outspoken senators when it comes to national debt.

“I truly love all of my caucus. Every one of them,” an exuberant Schumer said after the bill passed on Saturday.

After a reporter asked if he loved Manchin, Schumer responded, “Yes. Absolutely.”

Progressives, meanwhile, also backed the bill despite the fact that a $15 minimum wage hike wasn’t included. Manchin and seven other Democrats voted against a motion to allow its addition. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), in particular, faced criticism from some on the left for the way she voted against the measure. But Schumer didn’t hold that against her, noting that she stuck with Democrats on the coronavirus bill. 

“On the major issue before us, she was very helpful. She turned down all these difficult [Republican] amendments ... I’m positive about her,” Schumer said.

But that doesn’t mean that progressives didn’t achieve any victories. The bill includes direct funding for child care, major financial support for people who buy health insurance on their own through Affordable Care Act exchanges, additional direct payments for dependents, and substantial increases in the child tax credit ― all measures that could cut child poverty in half, by one estimate.

As Sanders said after the vote on Saturday, the bill is “the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working people in the modern history of this country.”

But even after they send the bill to Biden’s desk next week (if all goes according to plan), Democrats know their job won’t be done. The party is actively planning to avoid one of their biggest mistakes after the passage of the 2009 stimulus bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama: failing to adequately sell it to the public. The error led to their disastrous performance in the 2010 midterm elections.

Schumer vowed on Saturday that his party will be “letting the American people know all the important parts of this bill.”

Yet passing the coronavirus bill may have been the easiest part for Schumer. He must now keep his fractious caucus united on coming fights over other Biden nominees that are facing stiff GOP opposition, and turn to what will likely be the president’s second legislative priority: a major green infrastructure and jobs bill.

Manchin has signaled his preference for finding bipartisan support for a major overhaul to the nation’s roads and bridges, instead of moving forward without Republicans. Biden is also naturally more disposed to working across the aisle. But Schumer expressed skepticism about the prospect for bipartisan cooperation on infrastructure, an issue that will come to a head soon.

“Maybe now they’ll learn to work with us,” he said, pointing to his caucus’s unity on the coronavirus bill. “We’ll see, I don’t have much faith.”

Still, Biden sang Schumer’s praises on Saturday, crediting him for herding his first major legislative accomplishment through the Senate.

“Chuck Schumer. Senator Chuck Schumer. When the country needed you most, you led, Chuck,” Biden said at the White House.

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'Shocked by the uproar': Amanda Gorman's white translator quits

International Booker winner Marieke Lucas Rijneveld will not translate inaugural poet’s work into Dutch after anger that a Black writer was not hired

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld and Amanda Gorman.

The acclaimed author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has pulled out of translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, after their publisher was criticised for picking a writer for the role who was not also Black.

Dutch publisher Meulenhoff had announced Rijneveld, winner of the International Booker prize, as the translator of the Joe Biden inaugural poet’s forthcoming collection, The Hill We Climb, last week. But the move quickly drew opprobrium. Journalist and activist Janice Deul led critics with a piece in Volkskrant asking why Meulenhoff had not chosen a translator who was, like Gorman, a “spoken-word artist, young, female and unapologetically Black”.

“An incomprehensible choice, in my view and that of many others who expressed their pain, frustration, anger and disappointment via social media,” wrote Deul. “Isn’t it – to say the least – a missed opportunity to [have hired] Marieke Lucas Rijneveld for this job? They are white, nonbinary, have no experience in this field, but according to Meulenhoff are still the ‘dream translator’?”

Rijneveld had previously welcomed the assignment, saying that “at a time of increasing polarisation, Amanda Gorman shows in her young voice the power of spoken word, the power of reconciliation, the power of someone who looks to the future instead of looking down”. But in a statement, they subsequently announced their withdrawal from the project.

“I am shocked by the uproar surrounding my involvement in the spread of Amanda Gorman’s message and I understand the people who feel hurt by Meulenhoff’s choice to ask me,” Rijneveld wrote. “I had happily devoted myself to translating Amanda’s work, seeing it as the greatest task to keep her strength, tone and style. However, I realise that I am in a position to think and feel that way, where many are not. I still wish that her ideas reach as many readers as possible and open hearts.

Meulenhoff said it was Rijneveld’s decision to resign, and that Gorman, who is 22, had selected the 29-year-old herself, as a fellow young writer who had also come to fame early. “We want to learn from this by talking and we will walk a different path with the new insights,” said the publishing house’s general director Maaike le Noble. “We will be looking for a team to work with to bring Amanda’s words and message of hope and inspiration into translation as well as possible and in her spirit.”

“Thank you for this decision,” Deul wrote on Twitter.

Gorman, the first national youth poet laureate in the US, gave a tour-de-force performance of her poem The Hill We Climb at Biden’s January inauguration, hailed by names from Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey. Her forthcoming books, The Hill We Climb and children’s book Change Sings, subsequently shot to the top of book charts.

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Black Americans reconnect with roots in emotional trips to Ghana's 'Door of No Return'

"Africa is on the rise and African people are also ascending," one person said.

At Cape Coast Castle on the shores of the Ghanaian city, a sordid history belies its beauty.

The castle overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a former slave-trade outpost, is home to the so-called "Door of No Return," through which millions of Africans were forced onto slave ships bound for the United States.'

"Even though you may not know the exact village you come from, the township you come from, the clan -- the family -- you come from, you can be assured that this is one of the last places that our ancestors touched before leaving these shores," said Rabbi Kohain Halevi, a board member of the Diaspora African Forum, a nonprofit that in part helps connect visitors to their ancestral history.

Hundreds of years after those fateful voyages, millions of the descendants of those slaves have been returning to the castle -- creating a full-circle moment.

"That's why they say it's the 'Door of No Return,' because they believed at that time that if they erased all these things from ourselves, that we'd never find our way back home," Halevi said. "But look at the resiliency of the African spirit, and look at who you and I are -- that we made our way back home."

Watch the full story on "Nightline" TONIGHT at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC.

Actor Boris Kodjoe is best known for his work on screen in films like "Brown Sugar" and the ABC TV series "Station 19," but when he's off screen, he says his mission is much bigger: bringing the Black diaspora back to Africa.

"When you walk the paths of the dungeons at these slave castles, whether it's Elmina or Cape Coast, you feel the spirits of your ancestors," Kodjoe said. "You feel the suffering and the pain and just the atrocities that took place there, and you realize at that moment that you're not a descendant of slaves, but you're a descendant of survivors."

"To survive the cruelty of the dungeons, to survive the cruelty of the ships and then to survive the terror and the pain of slavery infuses you with so much strength and also commitment to never give up," he added.

The 47-year-old actor, who was born in Vienna to a Ghanaian father and Austrian mother, co-founded the Essence Full Circle Festival in 2018, which coordinates trips for descendants of slaves to visit and invest in Africa. For him, the mission was personal.

"My background is different from a lot of African Americans, since my father is from Ghana. … So my roots, I never had to retrace. I'm very clear on what my family tree looks like, and that knowledge fills you with pride, but it also fills you with a sense of identity, a sense of culture, heritage," Kodjoe said.

It's this exact sense of empowerment that he seeks to share with the Black community.

Kodjoe helped organize two trips back to Ghana in 2018 and 2019 for Black Hollywood stars, influencers and entrepreneurs to "reconnect with their ancestry," he said. Among those invited were "Black-ish" star Anthony Anderson, supermodel Naomi Campbell and "The Wire" star Idris Elba.MORE: What America owes: How reparations would look and who would pay

The Full Circle Festival took guests to places with significance to the slave trade in Ghana, including the Door of No Return, the Assin Manso Slave River and Jamestown -- the oldest district in the nation's capital, Accra.

"Observing friends who were part of this pilgrimage, if you will, reconnect with their ancestry has been the most overwhelming and just fulfilling experience," Kodjoe said. "To see, in their eyes, the realization that their ancestry gives them roots and a sense of belonging and therefore a sense of purpose, [it] is such an important experience that you want everybody to have that experience."

Guests were told about their ancestors' history and given tours of Ghana's neighborhoods and beaches. They were also welcomed at President Nana Akufo-Addo's home for a reception dinner.

"There's a lot of history that's shared between the continent and the diaspora, if you will. So to me, Full Circle Festival represents the honoring of our ancestry but also the realization that we have to build this bridge between the diaspora and the continent in order to address those generational traumas that we have suffered on both continents," Kodjoe said.

A large part of the festival involves being honest about those traumas and examining the lingering emotional and economic effects of colonialism.

"There is this disparity that has been carried from one generation to the next over hundreds and hundreds of years," Kodjoe explained. "The goal is to first acknowledge our history and realize that this generational wealth didn't just appear but it was systematically prepared, and there were mechanisms put in place to ensure that certain people were at an advantage and others weren't."

In the United States, the median and mean wealth of Black families is 15% less than that of a white families, according to a 2019 survey from the Federal ReserveMORE: Inaugural event to celebrate resiliency of Black Americans

The wealth gap has been growing, according to the Brookings Institute, said in a 2020 report that the ratio of white family wealth to Black family wealth is higher today than it was at the start of the century -- a result in part of white families inheriting wealth.

Kodjoe says there are "actually certain steps we can undertake, collectively, to reduce that wealth gap and to make things right."

A large part of Kodjoe's efforts have been to rectify false narratives about Africa that persist to this day.

"We've been told so many lies in the past hundred years about Africa that have kept us from it," he said. "This newfound excitement and interest has ignited a wave of not just tourism but people coming to Africa to experience, not just the culture, but also investing in Africa."

"The traditional narrative about Africa has been dominated by poverty, war, corruption, mass exodus to Europe," he added. "There's vibrancy and music and food and people and sights, and there's tremendous potential in terms of economic development."

In 2019, Akufo-Addo called for the descendants of slaves to visit the country and commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which he triumphantly called "The Year of Return."

Tourism boomed in Ghana that year, with nearly a million tourists touching down -- most of them hailing from the U.S.

Experts say ancestry DNA tests are a driving force behind some of the travel. The United States has also seen a racial reckoning unfold over the last few years, with protests across the country decrying racism and police brutality. The heightened focus on the Black identity has also contributed to a wave of interest in descendants' African roots.MORE: Stocks are soaring, and most Black people are missing out

Full Circle Festival has done more than just reconnect visitors with their past, too; it's reinvested in Africa as well, already generating over $1 billion toward the local economy.

"Full Circle Festival started changing the narrative about Africa, specifically Ghana," Kodjoe said. "We noticed that after just one year, we had helped stimulate the economy by $1.9 billion, and that was of utmost importance to show people the diversity and the vibrancy and the potential for not just tourism but business in Africa."

Since moving to Ghana over two decades ago, Rabbi Halevi has guided newcomers through monuments of the past.

"Ghana has been the gateway for millions of Africans that were taken away from this soil to various parts of the diaspora throughout the last couple of centuries, and now we find that has reversed," he said. "Ghana is now a gateway for hundreds of thousands, and hopefully millions, of Africans in the diaspora to return back to Mother Africa, through the gateway of Ghana."

One place he takes visitors is the Assin Manso Slave River site, where Africans from various parts of the continent had their "last bath" on their native land before being sold into servitude.

"Our ancestors believe if you walked barefoot with it, you're connected all the time with its strength and its power," Halevi told a group of tourists.

"How many people will lay on this ground to get the strength of mother earth back in your body. That's where the strength comes from. … We take our shoes off at the river, bathe in the river," he added.

Halevi praised the influx of visitors to Ghana, saying, "Africa is a place we can also come and enjoy. It's not a place of agony and pain, sickness and starvation. It's a place that is on the rise as the place is being rebuilt after centuries of devastation and for sons and daughters having been ripped from her womb."

"Africa is on the rise and African people are also ascending," he added.

Kodjoe said he hopes that these trips will change how the world views and engages with Africa.

"The goal is to continue to change that narrative and engage with the diaspora, build a bridge between the diaspora and the continent, which then hopefully will result in more economic development investment," he said.

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