Maryland State Sen. Catherine Pugh will soon head the country’s third largest assembly of African-American lawmakers. She was recently elected the new chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LBCM) and will take office on July 1.

Pugh has been an active member of the caucus since 2005 and previously served as the first and second vice chair. The organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary after forming in 1970 to provide leadership in developing, advocating and implementing programs and policies that serve the interests of Maryland’s Black residents.

“One of the purposes of coming together was to focus on issues relevant to the African- American community and to focus on making sure that we monitor legislation that would adversely affect the community and put forth the legislation that would assist African Americans,” Pugh said. “It is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. Unfortunately, discrimination still does exist in our state. We have to make sure we’re being accommodated.”

The LBCM has recently put forth legislation that builds African-American businesses and ensures that Blacks are included in the state’s investment portfolio. Through her leadership, Pugh would like to see the caucus increase Black businesses.

“If we create increased business opportunities we help to reduce some of the issues in our community — poverty and crime,” she said.

During her two years as chair, Pugh intends to tackle education issues across all levels, making sure Black students of all ages receive fair and equal learning opportunities.

“We want to make sure we’re achieving excellence across the board across the state and that we aren’t lowering achievement levels for African-American communities,” Pugh said. “We want our kids to be able to compete at every level.”

The caucus will also join the battle Maryland’s historically Black colleges are fighting against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to end program duplication at some of the state’s traditionally White institutions.

“It’s the law,” Pugh said. “You should not be duplicating programs. are open to everyone. The fact that they are considered historically Black institutions is because there were times when folks were not able to go to other universities.”

She said the caucus will also monitor the redistricting process after the final census count is taken to make sure Blacks are fairly represented in their new jurisdictions, and also will revisit gang legislation that she said most caucus members find to be “overreaching.”

Pugh, the former president of the Women’s Legislators of Maryland, looks forward to bridging the goals of the caucus with those of similar organizations to accomplish the goals she has outlined for LBCM.

“We’ve learned that the more we come together the stronger we are as a group,” Pugh said. “You’ll see us working with other groups to support each other because many of our needs are the same. I look forward to not only leading the Black caucus but to working with them to achieve the goals that we set.”