Earlier this week, members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) convened for their bi-annual retreat and strategizing session, held in Norman at Oklahoma's Whispering Pines Inn.
The day and a half session began with goal setting discussions, and a life strategies training session designed to build trust and respect as well as enhance overall relationships. A “hot topics” roundtable session on the second day featured presentations on health, mental health and wellbeing; corrections and public safety; economic/community wellbeing; and education. Experts in these fields presented along with a variety of invited resource strategists.
"The retreat gave our members the opportunity to hear from experts in a number of areas on issues that are important to the state as well as have our concerns and questions addressed in a small collaborative setting,” said OLBC chair Sen. Constance N. Johnson. "Spending time together as a group allowed us to discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the 2013-2014 legislative session.”
Members were provided with information about federal health exchange requirements and the Medicaid expansion as well as the implications of the governor’s decision to decline participation in Oklahoma. Strategies were also discussed about how to address issues that disproportionately impact members’ constituents and Oklahomans in general, especially the poor, minorities and the disabled. Resource strategists and advocates for the elderly, health care, mental health, economic and business development, Veterans, hospitals, women’s reproductive health care, and corrections reform also shared insightful information.
“Similar to other Caucus meetings presently taking place in anticipation of the first legislative deadline for requesting bills, this retreat allowed us to share experiences and perspectives, set goals for the upcoming session, and to work together to create a unified agenda,” said Johnson. “I cannot express how grateful we are as a Caucus to the folks who joined us in this process, and for the depth of knowledge and experience that they brought to our deliberations.”
The retreat concluded with the Caucus setting goals and a timeline for what they wish to get accomplished this session. They plan to continue hosting and even expanding the successful “Conversations With The Caucus Tours” to additional parts of the state as well as hosting forums, town hall meetings and symposia on the various hot topic issues. These events will help the Caucus in better engaging with constituents on these issues, and provide opportunities to further raise awareness of citizens’ concerns like how Oklahoma’s refusal to expand Medicaid will affect the state. The Caucus believes this is an issue that is important to overall health quality, jobs creation, and good stewardship of Oklahoma taxpayers’ share of federal dollars that will go to states like Arkansas and Iowa, should the governor fail to reverse her stance.
“As a freshman legislator it was enlightening to hear the perspectives and opinions of my colleagues and experts about these important issues facing our constituents,” said Rep. Kevin L. Matthews, D-Tulsa. “Medicaid expansion and access to healthcare, education, economic development, and inequities in the justice system are of major concerns to my district in Tulsa. I’m looking forward to using what I learned at our retreat as I begin thinking about what legislation I’ll be filing this coming session.”
“African Americans have several challenges which include high unemployment rates, concerns about health care, and the need for quality schools in our community throughout the state,” said Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa. “I learned so much at the Legislative Black Caucus retreat that helped me better understand some of the critical issues that face our community. Furthermore, I look forward to working with my fellow caucus members in the upcoming session as we attempt to find solutions to the many problems our communities face.”
Members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus include Sen. Constance N. Johnson (D-Oklahoma County), Sen. Jabar Shumate (D-Tulsa), Rep. Anastasia A. Pittman (D-Oklahoma City), and Rep. Kevin Matthews (D-Tulsa).