Should President Barack Obama and Congress support a black agenda?
Last week, for the first time in my 30-year career as a journalist, I joined 17 African American reporters in the U.S. Capitol for an unprecedented roundtable discussion with 11 U.S. Senators who openly discussed education, jobs, voting right, diversity, health care – and race.
It was a rare opportunity for black journalists to spend nearly 90 minutes with a group of senators who fielded a range of questions specifically about African Americans and economic parity.
Will there be immediate legislation passed to improve the quality of life for African Americans? No. But this was a good start in what should be an ongoing discussion about race in America.
The black unemployment rate is still an unacceptable 13.5 percent, 27 percent of African Americans are living in poverty, one in nine black children in America has a parent in jail, more black children are growing up without fathers in their lives, and inner cities like Detroit are crumbling.
So one of the issues on the table was this: Should there be a black agenda coming from the White House and from Congress?
“The president wasn’t elected to be president of black America, he’s president of all America, the same issue you have in Massachusetts with (Gov.) Deval Patrick. If you’re going to govern, you’ve got to govern for everybody: those who voted for you, who look like you, and those who voted against you,” said Sen. Mo Cowan (D-MA).
“Let me be clear about this as a black American,” Cowan said. “You know, the black American agenda, as I see it, is the American agenda. We are a huge part of this nation. We are not separate, but equal. We are very much a part of this, and I have faith and confidence in the president and this administration is focused on the things that matters most to black America.”
Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, said congressional leaders haven’t done a good job “forging partnerships” with the African American community and Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, said racial discrimination still exists because quality education should not be decided by zip codes.
I asked the senators about America’s inner cities and serious problems that Detroit is facing with bankruptcy, a state take-over, 80,000 abandoned buildings, high crime – and President Barack Obama’s plan urban revitalization plan.