By Karen Alston
Photo Patricia McDougall
Congresswoman Robin Kelly has dedicated her career to public service as an advocate for Illinois families. Since being elected to serve the 2nd Congressional District in 2013, she has worked to expand economic opportunity, community wellness, and public safety across the state, championing numerous initiatives to generate job growth, reduce health disparities, and end gun violence.
Congresswoman Kelly is a Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (the main investigative body of the House), and serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Information Technology, where she has focused her efforts on improving cyber-security, strengthening IT-infrastructure, and encouraging new and emerging technologies. Kelly also serves on the Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits, and Administrative Rules.
Committed to improving the health and wellness of vulnerable communities across the country, the Congresswoman serves as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, and Co-Chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. She also Co-Chairs the House Democratic Budget Group and Congressional Diversifying Technology Caucus.
Q. Please share your story? You started your career in mental health and you are now in politics? What was the crucible that changed your career into politics?
“I was the director of minority student services at Bradley. I was always focused on community. I was minding my business one day and five gentleman came to me to ask me to run for state office. When I was a state representative I served on health and human services committees. I took a leap of faith, to be honest.”
Q. What are the challenges being a woman in the US Congress?
“In running, I always remember the story, men run the state assembly. I was told to make sure my nails were done, my split ends had to be cut. I knew men were never asked these questions. It was tough to have your voice heard as a woman. If a man said the same thing I did they would be heard even though I had said the same thing before.
Now, in our US Congress and with the #metoo movement. Things are changing. We are making progress. It is cool to be a woman and I am proud to be a black woman in politics.”
Q. Let’s discuss women in leadership in the US Congress? Is it time for a African American woman to be in leadership?
“Yes, it is time. The reception, it depends on who it is and some may be uneasy with the idea as they think about their district. Overall, it would be ok but I am not sure that everyone would be 100% down with it depending where you represent that may not be as accepted.”
Q. I read you are passionate about wellness and you have a very diverse district. How do you plan to help your constituents around issue of health and wellness in your district?
“Healthcare, safe communities, home, jobs no matter if you are urban, suburban or rural I approach people through their basic needs. In my rural community’s health care and hospitals are a critical issue. I meet with local hospitals and am fighting for affordable quality health care throughout my district. In my rural areas we discuss telehealth and other needs. In my own town we don’t have a trauma center or a grocery store (though there is one coming) food deserts are an issue in areas of my district. To have good wellness you must have access to healthy foods. Violence is also an issue in some areas of my district.”
Q. Part of your district is in Chicago? Critics point fingers at the gun violence in the community how are you addressing that issue?”
“92% of the kids in one of the community’s I serve have faced some type of trauma in their lifetime. I would love to see professional mental health counselors in all of the schools. So they can help teachers and children to address some of the issues. The kids need someone professional to talk too. We need to address the legislation as well, background checks and police community relations. We have to look at the root cause of trauma and mental health that leads to violence in our community. We have to take the stigma off of mental health. There is nothing wrong with seeking mental health but we have a stigma and we have to keep working on that issue.”
Q. You are on the committee on technology the IT subcommittee and diversifying technology task force? What changes are you working on? What would you like to see that committee accomplish?
“Too many of the companies are lacking in diversity in every level. From the board room to the front desk.
Modernizing the federal government. Have government website be more mobile friendly so many people use mobile phones as their primary tool to access the internet. Also to get a rural part of my district on line. Residents did not have easy access to the internet. We have been working with companies to bring more internet access to the rural communities in my district and others.
Also to get the technology companies to diversify their employee base. To work with schools, colleges and universities in recruitment. Many companies state they have a difficult time finding talent.”
Q. You are on the committee for African American Girls? What are your hopes and goals for that committee?
“I am one of the founders of the Caucus for African American Girls. I hope that through the research and programs that we put together we can highlight and create legislation to improve the lives of African American women and girls. To highlight the great things that African American women are doing in the US. We have been from DC to Seattle spotlighting issues that affect women. We are doing an event upcoming event in Chicago on African American women and wealth.
Q. What are your plans for this year’s CBC Annual Legislative Caucus?
I will host health brain trusts on Lupus, childbirth mortality and HIV. People assume HIV has gone away but it is still prevalent in our community’s especially in the south.
Q. Is there anything our readers can do to help you?
Continue to support my work on gun violence and health care. Support my work on the committee for Black Women and Girls and The Momma Act.
To support Congresswoman’s Kelly’s work on the Momma Act please visit her website at www.robinkelly.house.gov
The Momma Act
• Appoints an expert federal review committee to establish and enforce national obstetric emergency protocol.
• Ensures sharing of best practices between practitioners and hospital systems
• Standardizes data collection and empowers a designated federal agency to collect uniform data
• Expands Medicaid coverage to the full postpartum period.