Eleven months ago, when I decided to run for governor, I saw Bruce Rauner taking this state in the wrong direction and I saw a racist, misogynist take over the White House, and I knew I had to do something about it.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all across the state of Illinois and of course the city of Chicago, meeting Illinoisans. Every day, I get to do something that elected officials never seem to do enough of nowadays, I listen.
I listen to families working hard to build better lives. I listen to kids concerned for their future. I listen to small business owners and people struggling to find work, to college students, to senior citizens, to community leaders and everyday Illinoisans.
And I hear from people who have been hurt by this governor and those who are scared by what Donald Trump is doing to all of us from Washington DC.
Now, most communities in Illinois are suffering right now, but none more than the African American community.
In the heat of a campaign, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important and what campaigns are really about. There is so much negativity in our politics. There is a focus on political attacks instead of new ideas. There is a focus on politics instead of progress. And no one pays attention to those who are suffering the most.
But from the day I announced and every day since then, my campaign has been about one thing: It is about communities that are hurting and that deserve better.
I’m sure that many of you have now heard about the report that was in the Chicago Tribune of a conversation with me and the former governor. That conversation does not represent who I am and it doesn’t represent what is in my heart. But that doesn’t change the fact that nine years ago, it happened. And for that, I am truly and deeply sorry.
I want to be clear that my intentions on that call were to advocate for Secretary of State Jesse White to be named senator and I stand by the fact that Jesse White would have made a great senator for the state of Illinois. I’ve known him for 35 years now. He defines public service. He is a true statesman and I mean in every sense of that.
Now there are things that I wish I had said to the governor on that call and things that I shouldn’t have said. I was not my best self on that call. I owe you better than that and I can only ask you for your forgiveness.
I’ve spent my life fighting to advance the values of social justice and civil rights and economic justice. And that comes from my parents. I grew up in a home where we were taught to not just talk about those values, but to live them.
The values I was raised with led me to fight for free preschool and childcare for low income kids. For over 20 years I’ve worked with legislators and with community leaders and community organizations to expand early learning and quality childcare so that African American children and every child in this country can get a good start in life.
Those values led me to the work of expanding President Obama’s school breakfast program to thousands of kids in African American communities. Kids can’t learn when they’re hungry and they shouldn’t have to try.
Those values led me to support the Center on Wrongful Convictions in the fight to free dozens of individuals who have been wrongfully incarcerated.
Those values led me to support substance abuse treatment and free health clinics in African American communities so families can get healthcare when and where they need it.
So, when I tell you that what you heard on that tape is not what is in my heart, what I mean is that my heart is filled with a lifelong commitment to fighting for equal opportunity for African Americans and for everyone in Illinois.
Many problems that plague our state are not new. In many communities they’ve been there for years, these problems. I’m running for Governor because Bruce Rauner is either unable or unwilling to address those problems.
Now, we need to talk about how we will expand healthcare, create jobs, and get every child the quality education they deserve.
But that is not enough. It’s not nearly enough.
Black and brown communities are still shut out of equal access to jobs, of affordable housing, healthcare, and education at rates far disproportionate to any other communities.
Real opportunity is so often reserved for a group that is too small and too white.
Systemic disinvestment maintains the cycle of poverty and keeps so many minority communities from moving forward.
People of color are disproportionately targeted by our criminal justice system.
The greater conversation ought to be about the foundation of our institutions, the wealth that has never been shared, and the theoretical opportunity that exists on paper but that is never realized.
This exclusion is not just our history, it’s our present. And if we don’t talk about it, and if we don’t take real, concrete steps to address it, it will be our future too.
These are difficult realities. There are real inequities that are in part about race and I’ve tried to address them throughout my life and in this campaign.
I’ve listened to African American families share the angst and the anguish of lost hope, and I’ve heard the anger about leaders who haven’t delivered on the promises that they’ve made.
That’s why I’ve put forward real plans because we’ve got to move the community forward. This isn’t about lip service and it isn’t about band aids. It is about bringing fundamental change to the community.
It starts with education. Education has been and always will be, it remains the most important gateway to economic opportunity. It’s time that we demand that children in every community, and I mean regardless of their color, regardless of their income level, get the quality education they deserve. We need to fundamentally change the way we fund our schools and we’ve got to increase resources across the board. When I’m governor we’re going to pass a progressive income tax to pay for schools.
After years of systemic disinvestment, it is time for the wealthy to pay more to get our kids the education they deserve. Zip code, skin color, income, should never determine whether or not a child has a real chance to succeed.
We have to address the glaring issues in our economy that keep communities of color down. It’s time to bring true wealth and prosperity into minority communities. And I’m not just talking about creating jobs. We have to bring access to capital into the neighborhoods that need it most, neighborhoods like; North Lawndale, like West Garfield Park, like Austin, so that people who live in these communities can start and build businesses that stay there. This means putting economic development dollars in African American communities like the South and West sides of Chicago.
We have to invest in our infrastructure while ensuring that all of the communities get access to the jobs that are created when we’re putting in that infrastructure. We have to enforce the government’s procurement process. State government has a lot of resources. If we enforce that procurement process and we require the state do business with African Americans, we all succeed.
And it’s time for an overhaul of our criminal justice system. Our communities are strong and resilient. But they are being let down by a criminal justice system that is devoid of any justice and it is guided by laws that disproportionately affect people of color. Together, we can build a true system of justice that recognizes the inherent strengths in our communities and protects the values upon which they rely.
We need to move away from mandatory minimums and we need to move away from a monetary bail system and towards rehabilitation and economic opportunity. We need to stop incarcerating our young people and focus on educating them. When black and brown families are dismantled by a criminal justice system that’s designed for them to fail children are left parent-less and the vicious cycle continues. Reducing recidivism requires removing economic barriers that hold people back and bridging the divide between people in prisons and their communities. And we need to ban the box so that people who have already served their time aren’t punished for the rest of their lives.
When I’m governor, we’re going to legalize marijuana and, black and brown entrepreneurs will be intentionally included in the planning and licensing of new dispensaries. We’re going to create jobs.
And we have to address gun violence in communities all across the state, not just here in Chicago, but all across the state, particularly in the African American community. We’ve seen innocent lives lost, families destroyed, and communities ripped apart. We have to act now. That starts with addressing the violence for what it is, which is a public health epidemic. We need to interrupt it, we need to reduce the risk, and we need to build safer and healthier communities where law enforcement works to build trust with the people that they serve.
Finally, it’s time for a government that represents the diversity of this state. I am proud to have as my partner in this race, State Representative Juliana Stratton, a fierce and compassionate leader. Juliana and I have a built a campaign that is the most diverse campaign running for governor where the voices of every community are heard. And we will build an administration like that, with African American leaders at all levels, making the decisions that guide us forward and the decisions that affect the economic health of the African American community.
There are individuals in this room, I know, who live in communities impacted every single day by systemic racism and disinvestment. There are families whose lives have been forever altered by the broken systems of the state. There are no solutions without your input and there is no path forward unless you are at the table.
These are difficult conversations, but ones that I want to tackle head on. We can’t settle for the conversation about race to only be had every four years when the politicians show up looking for votes. It’s a conversation we need to have every day and it’s a conversation that I’m committed to having every day as your governor when I’m in office.
I know I can’t promise you that I will get it right all the time. I know I won’t. But I can promise you this.
When I get it wrong, I will take responsibility.
I will hold myself accountable - and I’ll hold others accountable when they get it wrong.
Too often, our African Americans community is left to call out racism and deal with the consequences all by yourselves. Too often, politicians like Bruce Rauner exploit division for their own gain. These problems are not just black problems but problems that we must all address together. Investing in black and brown communities does not require disinvesting in other communities. It does not.
In order for us to move forward, we have to move forward together. We have to move forward as one, as one Illinois.
Together, we will bring economic opportunity to every corner of our state. I will make it my mission every single day to create jobs, to build educational opportunities for our children, to expand healthcare coverage to African American families, and bring hope back to all Illinoisans. I will show up every day and I will fight for you and with you with every ounce of strength I have.
Thank you very much. God bless this holy place and God bless all of you.