Rep. Carl Gillard delivering a speech at Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. Credit to Jabari Gibbs.

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus unveiled their “Call to Action” in Savannah’s Enmarket Arena July 22 to mark a new era in their half-a-century fight for equality through legislation. 

“Savannah is the first city and to bring it back to the original Capitol is significant,” said Georgia Rep. Carl Gilliard, caucus chair. “And in lieu of the original 33 Black legislators, who 14 of them were lynched…this 50th anniversary means a lot because we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. We get a chance to serve where folk could not serve.” Gilliard represents District 162, which includes portions of Chatham County.

The GLBC, one of the biggest Black caucuses in the country, holds the annual event to unite Black elected officials in Georgia and to champion the interests of Black Georgians. Attendees participated in panels and workshops focused on topics such as healthcare, voter education, the criminal justice system, agriculture and economics, the economic impact of the African Diaspora, developing young leaders and minority contract participation.

Gilliard said that his first year as chairman has been extraordinary and he plans to take the caucus throughout Georgia to reach the millions that the group represents collectively. As election season in Savannah heats up, he plans to focus on issues that matter to the people. 

“Savannah is number 2 in feature films and 16.5 million tourists.. we’ve got to have the relevancy of seeing millionaires that look like me, we are 55% of the population,” he said. “We need to see millionaires that look like me” Gillard said he plans to focus on several issues such as worker wages.

“The minimum wage in Georgia is an atrocity. It’s $5.15. And how can we serve? We’re number one to do business in Georgia, but we haven’t done business with the people in Georgia. By giving them a livable wage. So those are the things that we’re working on,” said Rep. Gillard. 

He also said that he plans to introduce proactive legislation to address the needs of Black farmers who he says have not had adequate support.

Disparities in Chatham County 

On Saturday, one conference presentation analyzed the Equitable Growth Fund, an apples-to-apples comparison of zip codes throughout the United States. Throughout the presentation counties with significant disparities were highlighted, Chatham County was one of the counties featured. 

The Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) and the Resource Vulnerability Index (RVI) help identify communities in need of support during disasters or public health emergencies. The SVI looks at poverty, transportation access, and housing, while the RVI focuses on resources like banks, hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery stores. The RVI provides a snapshot of resource availability and vulnerability. Communities with low SVI and high RVI are more resilient, while those with high SVI and low RVI are more vulnerable.

According to the data, there is a significant inequality in the distribution of banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores across different zip codes in Chatham County. Most zip codes have a relatively low average number of banks and pharmacies, with many having none at all. This trend is particularly pronounced in marginalized communities, where access to financial and healthcare resources is limited. On the other hand, grocery store accessibility appears to be more evenly distributed, with most zip codes having at least one store. However, areas with higher poverty rates tend to have fewer grocery stores. 

In the data, grocery stores are defined as stores that sell fresh fruits, vegetables and meat products. For example, Dollar General is not considered to be a grocery store. 

“If you think the ATM will only give you $400 a day…you cannot pay your bills by going to an ATM,” said State Rep. Sandra Scott. “So therefore, people need to be able to walk inside of a bank to make certain transactions that they need” 

What’s next? 

The Urban League of Atlanta presented the “State of Black Georgia,” which outlined the issues that Blacks are facing throughout the state and how Democratic Reps. Viola Davis, Sandra Scott and Kim Schofield of the caucus plan to attack through legislation.

Rep. Doreen Carter (Left), Rep. Kim Schofield (Middle) and Rep. Sandra Scott (Right) giving a presentation. Credit to Jabari Gibbs.

Davis, Scott, and Schofield, compiled a list of five key points to update the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, which aims to improve the overall QBE formula for the benefit of all students in Georgia. 

  • Support students living in poverty (House Bill 3): Initiative led by Scott, co-sponsored by Davis. Potential to allocate an additional $300 million in funding to districts with high concentration of students living in poverty.
  • Transportation: Bill authored by Davis to address underfunding in transportation for school districts across Georgia. Supported by House Minority Leader James Beverly, Rep. Billy Mitchell, Scott, Schofield, and Rep. Jasmine Clark.
  • Increase funding for districts with immigrants and refugees: Legislation being developed to provide comprehensive support services for districts with significant populations of immigrants and refugees, such as the DeKalb County School System.
  • Enhance state funding for safety and security: Legislation being drafted to increase state funding for safety and security measures in schools in response to rise in gun violence and mass shootings.
  • Regular updates to grant allocation: Review and update list of districts eligible to receive Equalization Grants and Sparsity Grants every 2-4 years. 

The presentation also stressed the importance of supporting the growth and expansion of small and medium-sized local businesses through funding and promoting new business development. GLBC members were urged to turn the Urban League’s policy recommendations into legislation.

Jabari Gibbs, from Atlanta, Georgia, is a senior at Georgia Southern University.  Majoring in communications, he is the Editor-in-Chief for The George-Anne Inkwell.  His investigative pieces have led...