‘He opened up doors for all of us’: The Pa. Legislative Black Caucus celebrates the legacy, service of K. Leroy Irvis

Produced By: - May 23, 2023 1:21 pm

On Tuesday, members of The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus gathered on the steps of the Speaker K. Leroy Irvis Office Building to celebrate the 2nd Annual PLBC Speaker K. Leroy Irvis Legislative Action Day and the caucus’ 50th anniversary. 

Members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus pose for a picture with audience members that included K. Leroy Irvis’s wife and daughter on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by DanieRae Renno).

Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, who is the lower chamber’s second Black, and first female, speaker, told an audience that included Irvis’s wife and daughter; representatives from the Monroe County NAACP, and representatives from Young Professionals of Color that they were “standing in the shadow of a great legacy.”

”Today, we’re standing in the shadow of a building that’s named after him [Irvis], but not only the building, we’re standing in the shadow of a great legacy,” McClinton said. “A legacy where he was able to do so many things with his leadership to change the lives of so many people across Pennsylvania.”

Irvis was the first Black speaker of the state House, and held office for more than 14 successive terms as a representative. He also formally organized the PLBC in the 1973-4 legislative session to represent minority groups with a united voice. 

Last year, the PLBC created the day of action to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Irvis’s inauguration.

Irvis died in 2006, leaving behind his wife, Sherry Irvis Hill, who embraced McClinton after she spoke.

“The Lord let me live long enough to see what I worked so hard to see, a woman in leadership,” Hill said. “Let us rejoice, let us be glad, and let us give thanks to God for we have traveled a long road to get where we are now, and there’s more to go, so let us keep marching.”  

There are now 37 lawmakers in the PBLC, which is its largest membership caucus ever. Its  chairperson, Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, both rejoiced and looked forward to the future march. 

“Silencing Black legislators and Black voters doesn’t just happen in the South, it doesn’t just happen in certain parts of our country, it didn’t just happen long ago,” Bullock said. “It has continued to happen through redistricting and voter suppression and other efforts. This long history of silencing black legislators and the people that we represent remains true today.” 

Rep. Aerion Abney, D-Allegheny, offered a similar sentiment.

“For those people who think this is the end, it’s not just the end, it’s the end of the beginning,” he said. “People who may think that we are simply just riding the wave don’t realize that we are the water.” 

As part of the day, attendees attended “Explore Black History at the Capitol” events, which included visiting the PLBC Archives, legislators and tours of the Capitol. PLBC members also hosted lunch. 

Legislative panel discussions took up most of the afternoon with varying topics, including Black Teachers Matter, The Movement of Inclusivity, Black Health Equity: Status Report, Incarcerated Voter Disenfranchisement and An Inclusive Cannabis Industry: Lessons Learned from Border States.

The day was slated to end with the James R. Roebuck Scholarship Award Ceremony. Each year, the PLBC offers ten $1,000 scholarships for graduating high school seniors and college undergraduates who are people of color. 

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DaniRae Renno
DaniRae Renno

DaniRae Renno is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association.


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