18 November 2011
President Barack Obama held the first ever African-American Policy in Action Leadership Conference at the White House on Nov. 9 to coincide with the release of a report, “The President’s Agenda and the African-American Community.” In front of a gathering that included Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the president used the conference to lay out his policy achievements three years after winning the Oval Office with the solid embrace of Black Americans.
He also called for “persistence” in the face of tough times. He restated his belief that the 15.1 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans is “way too high” and touted the administration’s accomplishments in spite of the political resistance the administration has faced. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Obama said.
“Now, some of these strategies are longer term -- all the good work that we’ve done, for example, in education,” Obama said in the first White House gathering of his administration to be devoted to policies directly affecting African Americans. “The payoff is not going to be tomorrow. It’s not going to be next year. It’s going to be five years from now and 10 years from now as we steadily see improvement in the performance of our public schools.”
The conference was convened in the wake of a stream of criticism of Obama from Black pundits such as TV talk show host Tavis Smiley and African American scholar Cornel West who say his policies haven’t touched African Americans in the way many Black voters expected.
National Urban League (NUL) President Marc Morial, who was invited to the conference but was not able to attend, hasn’t been part of the chorus of critics of Obama but said a conference of this magnitude should’ve happened much sooner. “Many of us would have preferred it if this had been held earlier,” Morial told The Root. “But that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that there’s a commitment by the White House to strengthen the dialogue with a broader group of leaders who are very interested in the direction of the country, and who represent communities that have really taken for the worse in the recession.”
Obama says that we’ve been through tough times before though and with a little persistence, America can rise from this recession too.
“Our parents have been through tougher times; our grandparents have been through tougher times,” Obama said. “We know tough times. And what we also know, though, is that if we are persistent, if we are unified, and we remain hopeful, then we’ll get through these tough times and better days lie ahead.” •