By Michael A. Grant, J.D.
Tennessee Representative Harold M. Love, Jr., the next president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), served as host to the NBCSL’s recent conference held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Nashville. Representative of Tennessee’s 58th legislative district, Love is now president-elect of the NBCSL. He will be sworn in as president next December 2025 in Washington, D.C.
“One thing that I have thought about when it comes to leading NBCSL once I’m sworn in is to continue some of the work I’m doing now as president-elect. And one of the main focal points that I have been charged with by the current president is to establish a series of regional quarterly meetings.”
Love says the NBCSL will begin holding in-person meetings throughout the year instead of one annual meeting, a strategy envisioned by current president, Alabama Rep. Laura Hall, and assigned to Rep. Love.
“The benefit is that we can address issues a lot faster than to wait for the annual conference at the end of the year. Most legislators are in session part time and the issues that we have to address happens in many states and affects constituencies that we represent from voting rights to educational attainment to affordable housing and health issues,” he said. “And so, to have regional meetings on a quarterly basis will allow us to respond faster collectively and that’s the strength of NBCSL. We are a collection of caucuses from across the country…We work in silos, but it does help when we have an organization that can galvanize us and make us aware of issues that are moving from state to state. So much happens from January through November that we now can no longer wait to convene.”
Representative Love has been groomed for national leadership since his youth. His father, the legendary Harold Love, Sr., served in the Tennessee state house for nearly 30 years. His mother, an educator, taught math for 10 years and acted as director of the federal government’s local Upward Bound program for 47 years at Tennessee State University. She passed away one year after retirement.
Representative Love lavishes praise on both of his parents who taught him how to serve others. All of their efforts resulted in his finally being elected after three unsuccessful attempts to hold public office. According to Representative Love, who earned a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University in Theological Studies and a doctorate from Tennessee State University in public policy and who is also Senior Pastor at Lee Chapel AME Church, received some sage advice from his mentor, Rev. Sonnye Dixon: “Do the work for the community outside of elected office. Then you will be able to continue this work after you are elected”.
From that, Rep. Love took that there are many paths to public service and to elective office.
“I know some people who worked for individuals and for campaigns and then ran for elective office the first time and won. That was not my case. Even though I worked in my father’s campaign, even though I was fairly active in my community, I did not win until my fourth time running,” he recalls. “It was in that space that Rev. Dixon said to me, ‘I know you want to do well. I know you want to help your community. Put that to work outside the office. And then if you get in the office then you’ve done well. But even if you don’t get elected, you still engaged in helping to shape policy.’”
There are many ways to serve, Love says. “We get caught up in the moment-in-time snapshot of election day…But we must also look for opportunities to serve on local and state level boards and commissions. We miss that. Local and state level boards. Or we can shadow someone in a legacy organization like the NAACP and the National Urban League and engage in that work.”
The 2010 flood that damaged a section of Black Nashville, gave Dr. Love the opportunity to put Reverend Dixon’s advice to work. By taking the initiative and helping to organize the recovery funded by FEMA, a grateful community encouraged Representative Love to seek office again. This time, in 2012, he was resoundingly elected to represent the 58th district of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The 2010 flood was a deep learning experience for Rep. Love.
“We often times do not adequately look into the long-lasting damage that is done to African-American communities post a national disaster. You think about the uprooting of a family, you think about the one of several entities that can appreciate in value – that’s the home – and what that looks like for that thing to now be gone. What it looks like for a person to have to relocate their entire family to another part of town and acclimate themselves to a new community, new amenities to all that is new. What does that disruption look like from the standpoint of the ripple effect because it doesn’t just affect them. We’re talking about a whole neighborhood. It affects their families and affects their friends.”
Three major initiatives to date are accomplishments of Representative Love. They are as follows:
Legislation to require TennCare to track and report on the most current treatment modalities for Sickle Cell Anemia. This legislation allowed constituents to hold TennCare accountable for keeping the public apprised of the latest developments in Sickle Cell research. Eleven states have subsequently passed similar legislation.
Representative Love introduced legislation to amend the property tax freeze program for citizens 65 years of age and older who met the income requirements. He got the income ceiling lifted from $31,600 to $60,000 annual income. This legislation has allowed countless seniors to maintain their status as homeowners. Regardless of the increase in house values, the freeze would cap the property tax rate through the duration of homeownership.
Finally, through a joint committee, headed by Representative Love, the historical under-funding of Tennessee State University, a Land Grant college, has been publicized. This gross inequity, dating from 1957-2020, has resulted in a finding that the State of Tennessee owes the school some half a billion dollars for capacity grant matching funds withheld.
Asked what his vision for the NBCSL will be when he assumes office, Representative Love, with a comprehensive and methodical mind, stated that he wants to get his fellow legislators to take notice of the trend to empower state legislators by political conservatives and be prepared for what is coming at minority communities across the country, such as voter disenfranchisement and intimidation. He wants voters across the country to realize that voting is their obligation in a democracy. Also, that they should stay engaged in the political process from election day to the implementation of policies designed to ensure inclusion in government created opportunities.
Rep. Love believes America’s leading issue is “Without a shadow of a doubt, voting rights.”
He says he believes voting rights “impact everything else that we’ve been discussing. When you talk about voting rights it’s not just the surface-level election day process. The whole concept of who governs is linked into access to voting. If I don’t have easy, consistent access to vote, then I don’t get to engage in the process of deciding who governs. If I don’t get to decide who governs, then the person who’s dealing with legislation, that person may not have my interests at heart and I didn’t get to engage in a process to choose them or to not choose them…So, that is where it starts and ends as far as I’m concerns. Because without the ability to decide who governs, everything else is almost unattainable.”
Michael A. Grant, J.D. is a former president of the Nashville Branch of the NAACP and the National Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.