By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill at the 27th annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition Dr. King breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The bill mandates testing of lead contamination in elementary schools and daycare facilities—something Dr. King called “the curse of poverty.”
Jackson reflected on how Dr. King spent his last birthday on January 15, 1968 and how he and others worked on the “Poor Peoples campaign.” It was at a time when Jackson said African Americans had achieved public accommodation.
“Those walls had come down. We had achieved the right to vote.” However, Jackson said there was “abounding poverty and a need for infrastructure investment.”
As far back as 1966, Jackson said people were living with lead paint on the West Side. He told of how Rev. James Bevel, a key aide of Dr. King, had youth urinate in bottles to test the lead content, which were taken to the Chicago Department of Health for testing. “That was 1966…50-years ago,” Jackson said.
“We believe that what is missing is a relief is a comprehensive conference on urban policy, violence causes and cures, racial and gender disparities” that impact poverty, Jackson said.
Jackson said there are more jobs than people if leaders would create jobs like demolishing houses that are needed, rebuilding, landscaping.
“Gov. Rauner has made a determination in joining with us in offering leadership. The issue of lead water, lead paint poisons children,” said Jackson.
Rev. Jackson and Rauner were joined by Gov. former Senate President Emil Jones, Senator Donne Trotter, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president, PUSH Excel, Rep. Al Riley (D-38th), Senator Heather Steans (D-7th), Senator Jaqueline Y. Collins (D-16th), Joyce Tucker, PUSH Excel board member, Rev. Janette Wilson, national executive director, PUSH For Excellence, Dr. Nirav D. Shaw, director, Illinois Department of Public Health, Jonathan Jackson, national spokesman, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Morris Smith, board member PUSH Excel and others.
Before signing the historic bill, Gov. Rauner said, “This is a good day for the children of Illinois.” Agreeing with Jackson, Rauner said, “It is especially important that we sign this bill on the birthday of one of our greatest Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for quality of life for every American to ensure that the American dream could become a reality for every American.”
“For too many years, the scourge of lead, lead poisoning, lead toxicity has been endangering the children in Chicago, Illinois and across America,” said Rauner. “There is no safe level of lead. Lead is damaging to the nervous system. It causes brain damage…brain disabilities. It is a major problem. Dr. King was dealing with lead 50 years ago which shows in some ways how little progress we’ve made.
“But today, shows what we can do what we can do when we come together on a bipartisan basis to work together towards addressing a problem and fix it and get good things done,” said Rauner applauding both parties for passing this bill which becomes effective immediately.
He said the bill “changes the system. We are holding our schools and our daycare centers accountable for lead testing, and we are making sure it can get paid for so it actually happens. We are going to insist that this gets done and our administration will be a key part of this. It’s an honor for me to sign this bill. It is a major step forward.”
However, Rauner said their job was not over. “Lead in the water is a significant risk. The even bigger risk is lead dust and lead shifts in the paint in too much of the housing stock in Chicago and across the state of Illinois. That is where even more of the lead exposure is occurring….”
Saying it won’t be easy Rauner said he would be conducting a statewide inventory of the housing stock to test for lead exposure. “It won’t happen overnight, but we’ve got to change the lead exposure to lead paint shifts and dust,” he said affects low income children living in older housing stock.
Saying she represents many of the zip codes that are disproportionately impacted by lead poisoning Senator Collins said, “Lead poisoning is just an effect. It’s not the cause, and I don’t want us to lose sight of the cause of many of the problems of my constituents and those who live in poverty encounter…the high concentration of asthma.
“Poverty is the root of violence as well,” Collins said. “If Dr. King were alive today, this is what he would be doing. He spent his last day (birthday) working.” She thanked Rev. Jackson “for continuing the journey to justice.”
Collins said this bill also represents “trust and justice.” “When we send our children to school, they trust us. They expect us to teach them, nature them and to protect them. This is about honoring that trust….”
Senator Steans said the bill would mandate that every school district would have to test every single water source that is portable for lead content. To get licensed, the bill calls for daycare centers to pass a lead test. It also creates an inventory statewide of lead pipes. The bill, she said, “is a great step forward.”
“This is an issue of injustice and poverty a well. Illinois and Chicago are four times higher than the national average to have lead poison, but if you look at the inner city Chicago itself, some neighborhoods have none and others have six times the level of lead poisoning.
“In every single one of those neighborhoods is high poverty almost all of them disproportionately African American. It is wrong. This is really an issue of justice, and I am glad that we are signing this on Dr. Martin Luther King day. It is something that he was way out in front of. We are way behind but I am glad we are finally taking steps to deal with this truly injustice,” Steans said.
Dr. Shaw said, “It seems like most of the 20th Century was almost designed to deliver as much lead as possible into our children. We painted our walls with it. We carry our water in it, and we covered our cars with it. Reasons like that in this day and age your health is determined more by your zip code than your doctor’s zip code.” Shaw asked for any ideas to reduce lead to send an email to [email protected].
Over the past 100-years, Dr. Shaw said lead “has been one of the true causes of what Dr. King refers to as the ‘curse of poverty’ which has no justification in our age.” He added, “It’s time to get to work.”