Black Economic Alliance Presidential Candidates Forum

BET video
Saturday, June 15, 2019 at Charleston Music Hall in Charleston, SC (aired on June 16).

4 CANDIDATES: Booker, Buttigieg, O'Rourke, Warren.

Background: Soledad O'Brien hosted the forum.  O'Rourke and Warren introduced policy proposals in conjunction with this event.



WASHINGTON – The Black Economic Alliance, a nonpartisan group founded by Black executives and business leaders, today hosted a first-of-its-kind Presidential Candidates Forum on expanding economic opportunity for Black Americans. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) participated in the forum at the historic Charleston Music Hall in the key early primary state of South Carolina.

“As an organization committed to advancing economic progress and prosperity in the Black community, the Black Economic Alliance is proud to have hosted these candidates for a timely discussion focused on economic priorities for Black Americans,” said Dr. Tony Coles, Co-Chair of the Black Economic Alliance. “We will continue to engage the presidential candidates to ensure they keep Black economic issues top of mind as the cycle proceeds.”

“As we approach the 2020 election, pundits, activists and public officials on both sides of the aisle agree the stakes could not be higher— this election will determine the future of issues ranging from health care to immigration, from education to the economy,” said Charles Phillips, Co-Chair of the Black Economic Alliance. “At the current moment, in which we are witnessing a more engaged electorate than any other in recent memory, it is critical that we ensure Black economic prosperity is a key part of the discussion, and that we hold our elected leaders accountable.”

“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. The BEA will build upon the work we did in 2018 and are doing this year advocating for policies that will uplift our communities. We will ensure that all the candidates, regardless of party, are prioritizing our issues in this election,” said Akunna Cook, Executive Director of the Black Economic Alliance. “And we will be focused 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 policy makers and elected officials,” said Cook.

The forum, opened by Congressman James E. Clyburn and moderated by Soledad O’Brien, provided a platform for top-tier presidential candidates to present specific policy solutions to key economic issues and detail their vision for helping Black Americans meaningfully participate in the economy. Candidates presented policies related to increasing homeownership for Black Americans, improving access to capital, ensuring college affordability, and advancing overall economic prosperity to reverse economic disparities facing Black communities.

“As business and political leaders, we must remember that less than two percent of those in the top one-percent income bracket in this country are Black households…That is why we are here today. To hear and offer ideas about what can be done to close the socio-economic gaps that proliferate among Americans and threaten the very foundation of our economic system,” said Congressman Clyburn.

The four candidates spoke on the importance of the event:

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said, “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the Black Economic Alliance Forum, and for the chance to discuss how this country can improve work, wages and wealth in communities of color as we fight for equity in America. We cannot address our broken democracy or the historic disparities in our economy with half measures or only half the country. It’s going to take all of us and it’s only going to happen with bold policy solutions like the ones we discussed at today’s forum.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, “Thank you to the Black Economic Alliance for its leadership in the fight for economic justice. I was honored to take part in a conversation about how we can confront decades of government sponsored discrimination and institutional racism and make big, structural change to ensure Black families have the opportunity to build wealth and a bright future. There’s a lot of work we need to do to address income inequality, access to affordable education, and increasing homeownership for Black Americans — and I was glad to share my plans for that.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, “Replacing racist policies with neutral ones will not be enough to deliver equality. We must actively work to reverse these harms, which is why I propose that we invest in equity with a new Douglass Plan as bold as the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. Such a plan could help heal the deep wounds of America’s original sin and supercharge economic growth for every American.”

Sen. Cory Booker said, “In a very short time, the Black Economic Alliance has brought the attention of the nation to focusing on issues that are critical to the success of all Americans. By talking about black economic empowerment after generations of policies designed to undermine, to hurt, to exclude African Americans, to have an organization that is trying to bring this back to having a consciousness about racial disparities and real policies to address that, that’s really exciting and I’m happy to be part of it.”

The Black Economic Alliance hosted the forum on the heels of the release of a nationwide survey that found that Black Americans still face a number of obstacles to improving work, wages, and wealth. The poll—conducted by Hart Research and Brossard Research of 1,003 Black adults— found that 81% of Black Americans continue to believe that it is hard for Black Americans to achieve the American Dream today. Creating good-paying jobs with benefits and making sure people have the training and skills needed for the jobs of the future were identified as top priorities for improving the economic and financial situations of Black Americans.

Launched in 2018, the Black Economic Alliance is focused on advancing policies that can and will create economic empowerment in the Black community. Over the course of the 2020 electoral cycle, the organization will continue to shape the national discourse and elevate issues important to Black Americans by funding research and analysis to help determine Black Americans’ policy priorities, convening presidential candidates for meaningful conversations about Black economic empowerment, and supporting additional candidates in competitive statewide and federal races.



WASHINGTON — The Black Economic Alliance, a nonpartisan group founded by Black executives and business leaders, announced today that it will be hosting a first-of-its-kind presidential candidate discussion focused on expanding economic opportunity for Black Americans. Set for Saturday, June 15 at the historic Charleston Music Hall in the key early primary state of South Carolina, the forum will be televised exclusively on BET Networks.

United States Senator Cory Booker and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg have already confirmed their participation in the event, which will be moderated and executive produced by the award-winning broadcast journalist, author, and producer, Soledad O’Brien. In addition, invitations have also been sent to U.S. Senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren as well as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Vice-President Joe Biden – each of whom were invited to participate in the forum after reaching 3% of support among voters in early-state polls.  Each participating candidate will discuss the key economic issues facing the Black community and how their proposed policies will make progress in the years to come.

“Black families across the country have been disproportionately disadvantaged by social and institutional barriers that have largely barred them from achieving sustainable economic progress. We are just beginning the discussion of ways to create better opportunities for all who want to work hard and get ahead,” said Dr. Tony Coles, Co-Chair of the Black Economic Alliance. “This forum will ensure that the top candidates for the highest office in the land have both a vision and a plan to guarantee each and every American has an equal chance to participate meaningfully in our economy.”

Over the past 50 years, the Black community has fallen increasingly behind other groups across a range of economic measures including unemployment levels, income, and home ownership. In fact, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal shows that the rate of Black unemployment remains well above the overall unemployment rate and that “Black workers have received far smaller pay increases in recent years compared with other racial groups.”

“Black communities across the country deserve to have their issues discussed at the highest levels of Presidential politics – and this forum will make sure that happens,” said Scott Mills, President of BET Networks. “I’m excited to hear the candidates’ discussions on how all Americans can participate in the new, 21st-century economy.”

Launched in 2018, the Black Economic Alliance is focused on advocating for economic policies that will advance work, wages, and wealth in Black communities. The Presidential Candidates Forum will be co-sponsored by the Black Economic Alliance Foundation, an affiliated organization focused on policy development and research regarding economic progress in Black communities.

***** Registration details for members of the media interested in attending the Black Economic Alliance presidential forum are forthcoming. Please contact Julie Tornow at for more information. *****

In addition to the policy proposals announced by O'Rourke and Warren, the Buttigieg campaign sent out excerpts of prepared remarks:

EXCERPTS: Mayor Pete Speaks at the Black Economic Alliance Presidential Candidates Forum

“It’s way too expensive to go to college in this country. It’s [also] way too expensive to not go to college in this country.”

“ I'm very worried...that we're going to automate inequality by failing to be intentional about how some of these algorithms pick up structures, systems, attitudes, and assumptions that are already racist in nature.

CHARLESTON, SC -- Today, Mayor Pete joined the Black Economic Alliance for its inaugural Presidential Candidates Forum moderated by Soledad O’Brien, and to be broadcast by Black Entertainment Television (BET). The forum will air tomorrow on BET at 10 a.m. EST.

Key Excerpts:


Now there's one other thing I want to mention that I think is getting missed in this whole debate over college affordability, as important as it is. It's definitely too expensive to go to college in this country. It's also way too expensive to not go to college in this country, and we've got to pay attention to making it possible to live a decent lifestyle whether you've got a college degree or not, and that goes to everything from minimum wages to technical education. [...]

I do support free tuition for low and middle income people, people who are...often the first in their family to be able to go. But I just don't believe that all of us, especially low income people should be paying to cover the very last dollar, even for the child of a billionaire, going to a college. I think if you're a child of a billionaire you can take care of yourself, and you ought to be able to pay some tuition. But for people who are low income, where it's a real barrier, then of course I think we ought to be able to make it possible to leave college debt free.


There are a lot of different dynamics going on in housing markets, even within one city, like my city, let alone across the country. We need a Department of Housing and Urban Development and an overall housing strategy for our country that can tell the difference. But a big part of that is making sure that we empower residents to live in integrated, economically and racially, integrated neighborhoods when they want to because we're all better off. And let's face the fact that the segregation of our neighborhoods didn't just happen, as a matter of fact there are neighborhoods that were integrated 100 years ago that became segregated in the middle of the last century because of federal government policy. The United States segregated these neighborhoods and the United States will have to work to put that right, and that's why I think we need as part of what we're calling the Douglass Plan, to have a 21st century Homestead Act that supports people in being able to build wealth and equity while also building up neighborhoods in historically underserved areas and making sure those most at risk of being driven out.


And I'm very worried, living in an era when more and more of this is going to be done by algorithms and by big data, that we're going to automate inequality by failing to be intentional about how some of these algorithms pick up structures, systems, attitudes, and assumptions that are already racist in nature.

So we need to look wholesale at how things like access to credit and scoring of credit work to break down racial bias in them. The good news is the same tools that can perpetuate bias can also help us find it. They can help us analyze where these credit tools got it wrong, mistakenly and unfairly classified a black entrepreneur or an entrepreneur with a black customer base as higher risk, when that actually had no bearing on how successful their business was going to be.


Black voters I talk to, frankly, feel burned and taken advantage of by politicians in both parties who come along making lavish promises, taking a vote for granted, showing up just before the election. And so, as far as what I'm doing about it, part of it is making sure opportunities like today and others that we are engaging with black activists, with black entrepreneurs, with black voters, and black leaders to talk about what an agenda for black America is really going to look like. [...]

So that's why we have to have an authentic encounter with people everywhere we find them. And, of course, present the substance of our agenda, the policies we're trying to get through, but also explain the values that those values come from. [...]

I think you're not free if you don't have access to healthcare. You know, freedom means economic freedom. Freedom, in my view, means women's reproductive freedom. [...] You're not free if there's a veil of mistrust between you as a resident of color and the officers who are sworn to keep you safe. That's freedom too. It's not just something that you can achieve by tearing down government. And so, talking in terms, not just of policies, but of values, freedom, security, democracy, faith. You know, I think that we also need to establish that God does not belong to a political party. So I'm going to make sure that we do everything we can to reach everyone we can with that message, and invite people to help shape this campaign, as well I hope as to support it.