Congress Members Focus on Leveling the Playing Field Reps. Lee and Meeks vow to fight to close racial wealth gap

Scroll to the bottom of this page to watch video of Reps. Lee and Meeks giving their full remarks.

Two of the most revered members of the U.S. House of Representatives called for Americans to “stay woke” on matters that will affect their financial wellbeing.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee addresses attendees.

U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (CA-13th) and Gregory Meeks (NY-5th) gave keynote addresses at the 2017 Future of Wealth Summit that were both informative and inspiring.

Rep. Lee serves Oakland, an area a stone’s throw away from Silicon Valley. She has long bemoaned the lack of racial diversity in the tech industry.

U.S. Rep. Lee has been in Congress since 1998.

“For many, many years, my constituents have been trying to break into the tech sector, not only the tech jobs, but the human resources positions, legal services, accounting… ,” she said.

In 2015, Lee and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) launched Tech 2020, a plan to encourage the industry to embrace inclusion by, among other things, developing partnerships with historically black colleges and universities and setting diversity hiring benchmarks.

Noting that income and racial inequality are a double-edged sword for people of color, Lee predicted that the multi-billion dollar tech sector would exacerbate the wealth divide by its exclusion of black talent.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California.

“Here in America, there is no excuse that tech companies hire 2 to 4 percent African Americans. That’s outrageous, a shame, and a disgrace,” she said.

Rep. Meeks, a key member of the Committee on Financial Services, spent part of his remarks criticizing the traditional banking system for inadequately servicing communities like the one he represents: Jamaica, Queens.

Rep. Meeks serves the Jamaica area in Queens.

“Banks are truly not meeting all the needs of the customers,” he said. “In my district … 34 percent of individuals with a bank account rely on alternative financial service providers: check cashing services, money orders, payday loans, pawn shops, rent-to-own agreements.”

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 made matters even worse, Meeks said, because many of the 5,000 banks that shuttered were in low-income communities already devoid of legitimate financial institutions.

Meeks said FinTech, which was the subject of a panel discussion at the Summit, has the capacity to be the solution to providing low-income communities with more and better services. But he is cautiously optimistic, noting that some of the computer data used by FinTech can lead to unintentional biases toward people of color; Meeks cited a recent ProPublica report that showed black drivers paid more for insurance than whites.

“The misuse of algorithms and big data worries me,” he said.

Meeks said all avenues that can balance the economic playing field deserve support.

“The second phase of the Civil Rights Movement is wealth building. Without wealth, we cannot be free,” he said.

Rep. Meeks was first elected to Congress in 1998.

Both Meeks and Lee praised the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS) and its president and CEO, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, for being at the forefront of issues like wealth creation and tech inclusion.

“(CGPS) is leading the way,” Lee said, “and it fits so well with what we are doing at the CBC.”

Watch Rep. Lee give her remarks.

Watch Rep. Meeks give his remarks.

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