VP Kamala Harris, AFT activist Cassandra Davis headline webinar

A Feb. 23 Democratic National Committee webinar honoring Black History Month (and featuring Vice President Kamala Harris) highlighted the many concrete ways the Biden-Harris administration has been delivering on the promise of America for Black Americans. During the event, Detroit Federation of Teachers member and trustee Cassandra Davis spoke about the real-life difference for her: After decades, Davis is now free from nearly $100,000 in student debt.

stock photo: black couple (male, female) hug while looking at a document
Photo credit: andresr/ E+/Getty

‘Enormous relief’: Retirement finally a reality after decades of student debt

“It was my saving grace. I still get the chills just thinking about it. I was free.”

That is how Davis described the moment she was notified by the Biden administration that her nearly $100,000 in student debt had been forgiven. Almost 4 million Americans have had close to $138 billion in student debt canceled during Biden’s presidency through his executive actions.

Davis, born in Detroit and a product of the Detroit public school system, has spent a lifetime giving back to her community. She has been a speech-language pathologist with the Detroit Public Schools for 32 years, specializing in working with children with autism. During the pandemic, she secured a grant to deliver essential supplies directly to her students and their families’ homes via Amazon.

But until 2021, student debt impoverished her present and haunted her future.

When Davis graduated from Wayne State University with a master’s in 1995, her loan balance stood at $30,000. Then, as with so many borrowers, challenges intervened and the interest snowballed cruelly.

“In 1995 I found myself a single mother, and my own mother had just died,” Davis recalled. “My initial student loan was $30,000, but it grew quickly because of interest. The $600 payment a month was impossible.”

Over time, the loan balance mushroomed to nearly $95,000.

“Despite being eligible for retirement, I couldn’t make the leap,” Davis remembered. She couldn’t afford to replace her 13-year-old car or get a badly needed new roof for her house. But she hung on, trying to keep from falling further behind: “During the pandemic [when student loan payments were paused], I diligently saved payments.”

On Oct. 15, 2021, Davis got an email from the Biden administration that seemed almost too miraculous to believe: Her loan was now eligible for relief. On Nov. 15, she received another email saying that her debt had been canceled.

Retirement is no longer a distant dream: “Now it’s a plan,” Davis said. “I am immensely grateful to President Biden and Vice President Harris for this enormous financial relief. I would still be drowning in student loan debt with no end in sight.”

Biden-Harris: Advancing equity and opportunity for Black Americans

Davis is just one face of how student debt is hurting Black Americans: The Brookings Institution found that, four years after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Black college graduates have nearly $25,000 more student loan debt than white graduates. And, as Davis experienced, that debt often spirals: Four years after graduation, 48 percent of Black students owe an average of 12.5 percent more than they borrowed. And Black women graduate with higher student debt than any other group.

Urgent as the student debt crisis is, it’s only one of many issues on which the Biden-Harris administration fights to ensure that all African American families can live with dignity, safety and truly equal opportunity. This administration is making real progress for Black Americans.

At three years in office, this administration:

  • Has cut child poverty to record lows for Black children.
  • Has invested $40 billion in equitable workforce training.
  • Has enforced the Fair Housing Act to combat racial discrimination in the housing market.
  • Is streaming a projected $100 billion to Black entrepreneurs and businesses.
  • Has reversed decades of disinvestment in Black communities, from cleaning up drinking water to expanding affordable high-speed internet and reliable public transit.
  • Has lowered healthcare costs and prescription drug costs and improved health outcomes for Black communities.
  • Has upped federal funding for schools in low-income communities.
  • Has provided historic support (nearly $6 billion) for historically Black colleges and universities.
  • Is moving justice reform forward, from reining in private prisons, to using executive branch powers to address racial disparities in sentencing, to calling repeatedly on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

And that’s just the short list!

Vice President Harris reminded webinar participants that this progress happened because voters turned out in record numbers last time around. “Because of you, we have been able to accomplish so much. … In 2020, at the height of a historic pandemic, you convinced people of the power they have when they show up to vote.”

An ‘erosion of our rights’: The fight for equity in healthcare

The webinar featured a firsthand account from the frontlines of reproductive healthcare.

Shawana Moore is a doctor of nursing practice and former president of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health. She provided abortion care at Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia for more than 10 years, then moved to Georgia in May 2022—just a month before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. She cares for a diverse patient population that has been disastrously effected by the reversal of Roe and Georgia’s six-week abortion ban (one of the most extreme in the nation).

“I have seen firsthand the heartbreak,” Moore said. “I have wiped away tears from patients.” In a state with one of worst maternal mortality rates in the country, especially for Black women, Moore noted, access to other reproductive health services—such as contraception, maternal care and prenatal care—has also been hindered. There has been “a drastic and unnecessary shift in the patient-provider relationship” that obstructs her providing evidence-based medicine to her patients, she said.

Moore knows she takes risks in speaking out. She said at times she is “fearful and truly uncertain,” but her North Star is that, along with her professional roles, she is “a wife, mother, daughter, sister, but most importantly, … a Black woman. … This erosion of our rights disproportionately affects people of color.”

She praised the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to expanding healthcare access and restoring reproductive freedoms: “The patients I care for deserve it.”

‘Now is not a time to take a vacation from voting’

DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison closed with a call for the Black community to consider the Biden-Harris record and vote. “This administration has had our backs,” he said. “In the history of the country, only 98 Black women have been appointed as federal judges. Thirty-five of them were appointed by the Biden-Harris administration. Black wealth is up 60 percent since before the pandemic. Black unemployment is at historic lows.”

Biden and Harris have “delivered so much for the American people,” he noted, “but [they] still have to finish the job. … We see the fear coming from the other side. They believe our better days as a country are behind us. We are the party of hope.”

Harris echoed his call: “We have some work to do” as an administration, she said, especially on child care, paid family leave and affordable housing. But look at the contrast, she pointed out: The other side wants to “pull us back and attack our freedoms”—our freedom to learn “our country’s free and full history. … This month and every month we are clear that Black history is America’s history.”

Harris asked participants to “energize, organize and mobilize.” Or, as the DNC’s Harrison put it, “Now is not a time to take a vacation from voting. … The power is not in somebody else, the power is in us. The power is in the people. Take your power. Use your power. Don’t give it away.”