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CIVIC ENGAGEMENT EMPOWERING EMPOWERING POLICY NEWS

Cassandra Welchlin on the Wage Gap for Black Women

As Black Women’s Equal Pay Day (July 9) approaches, we sit down with our Executive Director, Cassandra Welchlin, for an insightful discussion of the wage gap, its implications, and how Black women can build power through community engagement and lifting the sister vote. 

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 4 out of 5 Black women are the primary breadwinners for their families. How does that resonate with you? 

When I think about this statistic, I think about how most of a woman’s paycheck fuels her household. This means she has a lot less to do some of the long-term things that may be beneficial for her, like supporting a retirement fund or career development. I also think about how she is a caregiver, and there is added financial responsibility to that. We’re talking about underemployed women–they’re working but not making enough. 

And so, it is a stark statistic, especially in Mississippi, because eight out of ten Black women are the breadwinners of their families. I’m thinking about how the wage gap impacts her healthcare and her ability to look after her well-being, which affects her ability to work. It’s challenging.

Why is the wage gap so significant for Black women in Mississippi? What other elements are at play? 

Race is definitely at play here. When discussing the wage gap, we also talk about who it impacts. And it’s impacting Black and Brown women, who are facing not only racial discrimination but also gender discrimination. And we know that discrimination runs deep.

The other thing that comes to mind in this conversation is what women are losing from the wage gap. Black women are making 55 cents to the dollar. Over a year, she’s losing over $20,000 a year. I call that wage theft. That $20,000 could go towards groceries for her family. It could go towards a mortgage or rent. It could go to several other necessities to support a family: utilities, gas, child care, and household expenses. But instead, it’s lost in the wage gap. And it’s not happening only in Mississippi. Black women are losing wages across the country.

The Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable offers various ways for Black women to get involved in their communities, from leadership training to voter mobilization. How does voting and community participation help address the wage gap in Mississippi? 

MS BWR always takes issues like the wage gap to the polls. When we engage Black women in voting, we ask them, ‘What’s important to you?’ We think, ‘What do they need to take care of their families? To be economically secure? To be caregivers?’ They say, ‘We need higher-paying jobs. We need access to health care. We need access to child care.’ 

It’s so important that we talk about voting holistically because it’s not about the candidate. It’s about solving the issues you discuss at the kitchen table. Her vote is tied to that issue, like the wage gap, which is tied to her household and pocketbook. 

Moreover, we know that Black women are the primary breadwinners of their families. We spoke about that earlier. That means we must bring the wage gap issue to the polls because our paycheck is essential to support our household.

One of our key programs is the Power of the Sister Vote, which really brings Black women into a space where they can elevate their skills as leaders and access the tools they need to educate their own communities about these issues, take them to the polls, and make a change. We actually have a Boot Camp coming up on June 29th in McComb, Mississippi, at the MLK Center for those who are interested! 

What are the broader implications of the wage gap inequity? 

The broader implications of the wage gap are its impact on the state and local economies. When we talk about who’s in the workforce, especially in Mississippi, Black women and women are in the workforce. Half of them are minimal-wage earners. If we close the wage gap, we’re cutting poverty in half, and we know Mississippi has a significant poverty rate in this country. We’d also be ensuring that women can better contribute to the economy in a way that benefits the state.

Let’s say, for instance, a woman who lives in a local community takes her dollar and patronizes the grocery store. She then drives to a gas station and patronizes that business again. Then, she goes to a local grocery store to get food for her family. Her dollar is turning over and over again in that local community, which benefits the local community and promotes the larger state economy. 

Mississippi continues to say it is a work-friendly business state. If that is the case, then we’ve got to make sure that we are doing our part by having a good equal pay law on the books that protects women when they are working and their wages, especially for Black and Brown women. 

Do you see the wage gap as a product of history or a consequence of poor legislation?  

This is a great question! I see it as both. When we think about it, Black women birthed the labor that made this country wealthy, particularly in the South, and we never got a monetary benefit from that. Then, we moved into Jim Crow, and we still weren’t paid what we were worth because of systems rooted in white supremacy that still exist today. 

Inequities like the wage gap are a continual consequence of a system that does not benefit or consider us. Mississippi is still governed primarily by white men who do not appreciate our experiences as Black women. We are not the priority. 

That’s why it’s essential for us to be involved in the legislative process and be at those decision-making tables. That’s why we need to be part of implementing and forming public policies and embody what Shirley Chisholm says, ‘We’re bringing our chair to the table.’ We take that seriously at MS BWR to equip and train Black women to be leaders, not only in our communities but also at these policy-making tables where policies such as the minimum wage and equal pay laws are being made.

I think about my mom’s story again. She worked right across the street from the state capitol. When I was just two or three years old, I had to go to work with her because she didn’t have enough money for child care. But she worked across the street from the state capitol, where lawmakers had the power to write a law to increase her wages to a living wage because she was just making $2 and some change.

We’re still there. We’re still working at the legislature to make sure that, as Marian Wright Edelman says, ‘No mom has to choose between the child she loves and the job that she needs to take care of her household.’

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NEWS

Juneteenth & ‘The Color Purple’ Premiere

The Mississippi premiere of Oprah Winfrey’s musical adaption of The Color Purple was more than a screening; it brought together local and national leaders to celebrate the power of sisterhood and chart a path forward for Mississippi through healing and reconciliation*. 

Following the film screening, a discussion panel featuring visionaries like our very own Executive Director, Cassandra Welchlin, Director of Southern Poverty Law Center, Waikinya Clanton, and Letitia Johnson with the Jackson Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, brought to light important points about Mississippi’s history and the continued movement towards eliminating all forms of inequity for Black women. 

As we celebrate Juneteenth, remember that this is also a time for action! Connect with your community, engage with Black history (like by rewatching The Color Purple!), hold conversations about the Black experience, and help continue the legacy of eliminating inequities for our communities. Because the power for change lies in us!

* Special thanks to Southern Poverty Law Center, Win with Black Women Network Mid-South, The Links Incorporated, and all who participated in making the premiere such a success!

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CIVIC ENGAGEMENT EMPOWERING NEWS

Q&A With Robin Jackson

Out of thousands of applicants, MS BWR’s Director of Policy Advocacy and Movement Building, Robin Jackson, and her son RJ were selected as Strolling Thunder Representatives for Mississippi, and we couldn’t be prouder! Their journey to Washington, D.C. will culminate in a discussion with Congress about the importance of supportive childcare policies for families in Mississippi.

Strolling Thunder is a project of Zero to Three, an organization focused on leading policy solutions that give babies a strong start to life. Robin and RJ will join 50 other family representatives at Capitol Hill.

Check out our Q&A with Robin discussing her policy plans, her experiences with child care as a new mom, and her thoughts on how important affordable child care is for Black women in Mississippi providing for their families.

How did MS BWR help you maintain a work-life balance as a new mom?

When I returned to work full-time after having my son, RJ, I was able to do hybrid work. On days that I worked on admin tasks for my department, I would work from home. And then on the days I had to go to the office, I could bring RJ and there was space to accommodate us both. 

MS BWR provided a space big enough for us both, where I could privately feed and change my son throughout the day. He also had toys to play with and a little Pack N’ Play. I was able to take Zoom calls and fulfill my office tasks, and the accommodations helped me a lot while I stabilized myself and looked for child care I could afford.

It was really a community thing. My colleagues were very helpful, and would watch my son or let him play in their office if he was, you know, maybe a little rowdy and I had a Zoom call. It was a family environment. I’m very grateful because I know accommodations are not made for working moms, especially new moms, very often at other organizations. They say it takes a village to raise a child; MS BWR was my village.

Why are childcare accommodations like this important for working moms? Especially Black moms?

Businesses should realize that effectiveness depends on stability. Accommodations are so important because they help moms stabilize while they look for child care, re-adjust to office life, or manage their new routines. 

When businesses do create accommodations, they change the culture. They start a movement and support workplace justice. There are big businesses like Amazon or Google that already provide child care. Hospitals do it too, but we need it in other fields. Black women are some of the lowest-paid workers in the state, and child care is very expensive. Having to cover that cost can severely impact how a mom can support her family. 

How can childcare costs become a financial burden?

The pandemic made people more aware of the importance of child care and early learning programs, making these services much more expensive. When I was looking for child care, the average monthly cost was more than my mortgage. It was like paying college tuition to send my child to a child care center. 

Then there’s the fact that Black women in Mississippi are making less than $15 an hour. That means childcare costs take anywhere between 50 and 60 percent of their income. This is why affordable child care is so necessary; moms are left with only 40 percent of their income to take care of their families. 

Those costs trickle down, hindering a mom’s economic advancement. They have to choose between paying for child care, potentially working a second job, and forgoing degree studies and career advancement or not paying for child care, not accessing early learning for their children, and taking time away from work to find someone to watch their kids. It all links back to economic disparity.

How do you feel about RJ being a representative for Mississippi?

I’m really excited! You know, even though he’s one, I think it’ll be a great experience for him and he’ll have the memories to look back on later. I remember that there were times throughout my childhood where I had opportunities to go to the White House, but it was not something my parents could afford. 

I’m grateful that everything worked out, and that he’s getting this opportunity at such a young age. Hopefully this will be a key start to his advocacy career. I’m also thankful to Zero to Three for being so accommodating, inclusive, and showing different representations of family. 

It was really important for me, as a single mom, to bring somebody else to the event, and they let me bring my sister, Kiersten, who is a co-caregiver to my son. I think it’s important to show that everyone’s support network looks different, and that’s ok!

Why is child care your policy priority for Strolling Thunder?

Because, while there have been federal policies and legislation created for things like universal child care or certain child tax credits for paying for care, more needs to be done. Taking care of a child is one of the hardest things women face, and they need supportive policies in place to help them be at their best. 

I want to talk to our Congress members about this, not so they continue to look at it from a federal level, but for them to see what’s happening in Mississippi. If we’re looking to move Mississippi forward, then increasing affordable child care and access to early education are going to be the ways to do it. 

How is Strolling Thunder inspiring? How do you think other working moms and Black women in Mississippi can mobilize?

Strolling Thunder is important because representation matters. I think being a single mom from Jackson and getting this opportunity with my son, helps moms know that there are people who look like them and are from their community who are going and fighting on their behalf.

I’m hoping this can inspire moms to advocate for what’s beneficial for them, and see where they can activate in their area. This may also power work at the Mississippi Capitol during the 2025 legislative session. Above all, I want this to catch the attention of single moms and get them to say “Hey, I want to do something like that!” and then go take action. 

Responses edited for brevity and clarity.

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MS VOICES Resources

Lupus: Hard to Diagnose, Disproportionately Affects Black Women, but Fairly Little Known in the Community

Lupus: Hard to Diagnose, Disproportionately Affects Black Women, but Fairly Little Known in the Community

Lupus is a disease that affects people of all races and ethnic groups. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus. Of those that are living with lupus, 90% of them are women. Furthermore, lupus is three times more prevalent in Black women than Caucasian women; 1 in 250 Black women will develop lupus.

Even though lupus is a disease that disproportionately affects Black women and other people of color, most people know little to nothing about it. A 2012 Lupus Awareness Survey found that 61% of Americans said they knew little or nothing about the disease; specifically, 57% of Black people said they had never heard of lupus or knew little about it.

So, what is lupus?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting any part of the body. The condition makes the immune system unable to tell the difference between healthy tissue and foreign bacteria, germs, and viruses, causing the immune system to attack healthy tissue and cause inflammation. The cause of lupus is unknown, but dozens of known genetic variants impact who gets lupus and how severe it is. Lupus is hereditary/genetic and is not contagious.

There are four different types of lupus:

  • Systemic Lupus (SLE) is the most prevalent form of lupus, accounting for more than 70% of all cases. It can affect all body parts, including skin, joints, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain, or blood.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus is caused by taking certain types of medicines, and it typically goes away when the patient stops taking the medication. Symptoms can be similar to systemic lupus.
  • Cutaneous (Discoid) Lupus affects only the skin, typically in the form of rashes. It accounts for about 10% of all lupus cases.
  • Neonatal Lupus is a rare condition where the mother’s antibodies affect the fetus. It can cause the baby to experience symptoms that range from a rash that goes away to a permanent heart defect.

Since lupus can affect any part of the body and impacts everyone differently, there are many symptoms. The most common symptoms are facial “butterfly” rashes, sores in the nose or mouth, joint pain and swelling, fatigue, feverish feeling, unusual hair loss, memory problems, and blood complications.

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because its varying symptoms are similar to many other illnesses, and lupus symptoms can be unclear, come and go, or change. Because of the difficulty of diagnosis, on average, it takes about six years from the time people first notice their symptoms to being correctly diagnosed with lupus. Sixty-three percent of people with lupus reported being incorrectly diagnosed, and 55% reported seeing four or more different healthcare providers before being accurately diagnosed.
To diagnose lupus, doctors use a list of eleven criteria, symptoms, and laboratory test results, to help determine whether a patient has lupus. A patient must have at least four criteria to be diagnosed. They do not have to have all four criteria simultaneously but must let their doctor know about any previous tests or symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with lupus, there are various resources to help you financially and medically, for the disease can be costly. The average annual direct healthcare cost of a person with lupus is $33,223. Visit https://www.lupus.org/care-support/programs-and-services to find programs and services for local and national support.

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MS VOICES Resources

Multiple Sclerosis Fluctuates in Intensity, Has No Cure, but Treatment Options Provide Relief

Multiple Sclerosis Fluctuates in Intensity, Has No Cure, but Treatment Options Provide Relief

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a potentially disabling disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). It causes the immune system to attack a person’s myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, resulting in communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. Permanent damage or deterioration of the nerve fibers can occur because of the disease. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for MS. However, treatments are available to assist with recovery from attacks, modify the disease’s course, and manage symptoms. 

MS affects everyone differently depending on the location and severity of the nerve fiber damage in the central nervous system. Even though signs and symptoms of MS may vary from person to person, common symptoms include the following: 

  • Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, usually on one side of the body at a time
  • Tingling
  • Electric-shock sensations occur with neck movements, especially bending the neck forward
  • Lack of coordination
  • Unsteady posture or inability to walk
  • Impaired vision, including partial or complete loss of vision (typically in one eye at a time), pain during eye movement, prolonged double vision, and blurry vision
  • Vertigo
  • Sexual, bladder, and bowel function problems
  • Fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Mood disturbances

Although these are the common symptoms of MS, a person’s symptoms can improve, return, or change altogether. This is because most people with MS have a relapsing-remitting disease course meaning that they experience periods of new symptoms followed by “quiet periods” of remission that can last months or even years.  

With this laundry list of common symptoms, diagnosing multiple sclerosis is a complex process. There is no blood test or single genetic marker to let a doctor know someone has MS. So, a diagnosis has to come by ruling out other potential diseases and using MRI scans to find brain, spinal cord, or optic nerve lesions. 

Professionals previously thought MS primarily affected white people of European descent. However, recent studies show that the rate of Black Americans with multiple sclerosis is nearly even with white Americans and may affect Black people with a more aggressive progression and increased chance for disability. A Southern California study found that 226 Black people out of every 100,000 have MS—compared to 238 white people. Additionally, women are three times more likely to get MS than men.  

Another reason there is not much information about Black people with MS is because of the underrepresentation of Black people in research studies. The lack of research makes it difficult for doctors and researchers to understand how MS impacts them individually and how to provide the best care. Black people living with MS are encouraged to participate in clinical trials or other kinds of research, such as the suggested link to help in the effort to improve care, diagnosis, and of course, a cure. (https://nms2cdn.azureedge.net/cmssite/nationalmssociety/media/msnationalfiles/brochures/brochure-participating-in-clinical-trials.pdf). 

Even though there is no cure for MS, there are several different treatment options for people living with MS. Treatment typically focuses on speeding recovery from attacks, reducing new radiography and clinical relapses, slowing disease progression, and managing MS symptoms. Sometimes symptoms can be so mild that no treatment is necessary. There are more than 19 treatments to help people with MS, ranging from medications to infusions to physical therapy. A complete list of available treatments and what treatments are best suited for what needs is available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/multiple-sclerosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350274.

As expected, there currently needs to be more blood and organ donors. Only about 2% of people in the United States donate blood resulting in around 13.6 million units of whole blood collected annually. Nearly 5,000 units of platelets and 6,500 units of plasma are needed daily in the United States. Red blood cell use is only good before 42 days, and platelets within five days. A constant supply is necessary to meet the demand. Blood varieties add an extra layer of difficulty. Maintaining diversity in the blood supply is essential to ensure every person receives the needed matching blood type, including rare types.

Donating blood requires the desire and ability to give, but organ donation is trickier. Every day there are around 107,000 people on the national organ waiting list; out of those 107,000, 17 people die daily waiting for a transplant. To make matters worse, transplant patients are increasing.

Even though the blood and organ donor shortage affects everybody, Black people feel the need the most. The sickle-cell disease primarily affects Black people, and many of those affected by the disease rely on frequent blood transfusions to manage its harmful impacts. Sickle cell affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are Black.

As with any blood work, people who need transfusions must have a compatible blood type with the donor. More Black people need to donate because one in three Black blood donors is a match for people with sickle cell disease. Therefore, the more Black people donate blood; the easier it will be for other Black people who need blood to access it without the stress of finding someone compatible.
Many Black people are hesitant about donating despite a glaring need. In 2016, Black people made up 30% of the organ donation waiting list and 33% of the kidney list, even though Black people only make up 13% of the U.S. population. These hesitancies to become a donor often result from a feeling that their organs may be unusable due to specific, prevalent ailments in the Black community and a general distrust of doctors, especially with their lives potentially being on the line.

Even though specific ailments may be present, a lot of the time, the organs are still acceptable for transplant. Education about organ donation would be beneficial to anyone who is considering becoming a donor. Other uncertainties have legitimate standing when looking at the history of Black people and healthcare. However, for those who feel uncomfortable becoming a donor at the end of their life, there is an option to be a living donor, which allows the donor to live a healthy life. Living donors can donate organs such as kidneys, segments of the liver, portions of the pancreas, and parts of the intestine. If a person chooses to be an organ donor, their donation can save up to eight lives.

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Medicaid and CHIP Toolkit

Medicaid and CHIP Toolkit

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HB 770 Fact Sheet

HB 770 Fact Sheet

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Equal Pay Toolkit

Equal Pay Toolkit

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Equal Pay EEOC Handout

Equal Pay EEOC Handout

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Journey to Ground Zero of the US Abortion Battle

Journey to Ground Zero of the US Abortion Battle