As Black History Month comes to a close, I am reminded of something my father, the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, said when he ran to become New Jersey's first black congressman: "I want to be a role model for the kids I talk to on the street corners. I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement."
Throughout his 23 years in Congress, my father inspired countless others to pursue success through hard work, focus and perseverance. But he also understood that opportunity and the chance for every individual in this country to achieve their full potential remains elusive for many Americans.
So, he fought tirelessly for his constituents — a fight I am honored to continue. The reality is that despite the great strides our nation has made toward full equality, African-American families today still face significant barriers to success and equal treatment. For example, in my district, New Jersey's 10th Congressional District, African-Americans face an unemployment rate of 17.9 percent — nearly triple that of white workers, at 6.7 percent.
From high unemployment to gun violence; from lack of diversity to persistent poverty; from voter disenfranchisement to mass incarceration — there are still many critical issues affecting our communities that must be addressed.
As Americans, we believe that all men and women are created equal. And, as Americans, we make a commitment to our fellow citizens who are willing to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their families.
We can honor that commitment by finding real solutions to the problems that continue to plague African American communities across the country — not just during Black History Month, but all year round.
Together, our potential for success is unlimited. And together, we can make sure that every American, regardless of what they look like, has a fair shot at achieving that success.
Donald M. Payne, Jr. is a Democratic congressman representing New Jersey's 10th Congressional District.