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CHICAGO: Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, announced during a visit to a mosque on Friday that he supports the passage of a law granting Arab and Muslim entrepreneurs special “minority” when bidding for a share of more than $46 billion in annual government contracts.

State policies on minority business enterprises and women’s business enterprises reserve up to 30% of state contracts for majority-owned businesses by persons belonging to designated ethnic minorities – Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black , Hispanic or Native American – and 5 percent for those majority-owned by women.

Welch said he supports legislation, introduced by Illinois State Rep. Cyril Nichols, that would include Arabs as a “recognized minority group” so they can receive “their fair share” of these state contracts.

“I know some issues are particularly important to your community and Rep. Nichols has been a leader on those issues,” said Welch, who is the first African American to be the speaker from Illinois.

“Nichols introduced a bill a few weeks ago that will specifically address the issue of minority status. My office will be supporting him to ensure that we have the necessary hearings on this bill here over the summer.

Speaking at a meeting at the Orland Park Mosque in suburban Chicago hosted by Arab-American Chamber of Commerce President Hassan Nijem, Welch pledged to push for the bill during the November veto session, when bills are normally considered and considered for passage.

“I think the MBE program is extremely important because we have traditionally been left behind, as minorities, not just in the state of Illinois, but in this country,” he said.

“Unfortunately, this has been our country’s history and it took people like Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and everyone who came before us, to fight for civil rights and inclusion. This fight continues today.That’s what the MBE program is for.

Welch said the state legislature last month passed a $46.5 billion budget and that “the MBE is making sure the money goes into the pockets of people who look like Illinoisans. “.

He added: “Diversity is the strength of the state and everything we do should reflect that diversity, and how we spend that money is an integral part of that.

“Long before I was the speaker, people will tell you, I fought for diversity on boards, diversity in how we spend our money, diversity in our suppliers.

“And now that I’m actually here at the head of the table, believe me, when I’m done, this community is going to see a big difference.”

Welch urged Arab and Muslim community leaders to “inform and educate” other state lawmakers to help build support for adopting the minority classification.

“When Rep. Nichols proposes hearings, you need to make sure the community comes forward (and) testifies,” he said. “People who cannot be there, submit a written testimony. Let us know why this is such an important question. How does this help the state? Advocacy really matters.

Nichols, who was also at the mosque meeting, said he realized the real significance of his bill in April when he appeared on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” which is hosted by the network. United States Arab Radio and sponsored by Arab News.

“The speaker is right, you need to call your legislators because I need to get a whole bunch of people to agree with this,” Nichols added. “They need to hear from you. … We always say that if it’s right, the Most High will see to it that we are covered. We can do a lot of things together.

Welch said, “Power comes from building coalitions and building allies. There is now a black caucus, a Hispanic caucus and an Asian caucus.

He added that he anticipates a day when there will be an “Arab Caucus” to help ensure that Arabs and Muslims are actively engaged at all levels of government in Illinois.

“The only way to govern is through inclusive leadership,” Welch said. “I think it’s extremely important that your community be part of this coalition that we are building. No one is left behind. Everyone is in it, no one is excluded.

“And that’s what it’s all about. We’re intentional, we’re here for a reason, and we’re looking for ways to make that inclusion happen – and I want to be a part of it…with you.

Nichols said Muslims and Arabs in Detroit have raised the issue of minority status and he feels the same is needed in Illinois, especially in the Chicago area which is home to more than 450,000 Christian Arabs. and Muslims.

Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, the imam of the Orland Park Mosque, said the Arab community will communicate and work with lawmakers to help them understand why the bill is so important to their community.

“With … the potential to be part of future contracts and future business, being declared a minority is one of the main goals,” he said. “If that happens, members of our own community will have a share of all those contracts, up to 20 or 25%…and that means our community will grow and in turn contribute to the welfare of the state itself .

“We are pleased that the House Speaker is here, as well as the Rep, to speak to this issue and what it means and where he can help and support this perspective.”

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