ANALYSIS: Black Journalists Meet With US Senators About Race and Jobs

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The plan to renovate some of the nation’s most devastated black neighborhoods is part of a broad strategy to help improve the quality of life for many black Americans.

The Obama administration created the White House Office on Urban Affairs and rolled out an ambitious initiative to spend billions of dollars over the next several years to overhaul predominantly black cities in the areas of education, housing, health care, poverty, transportation, infrastructure and safety.

It’s an epic initiative, considering the long-standing economic problems that inner cities have experienced. For eight years under the Bush administration, black neighborhoods were essentially ignored. But today, the Obama administration wants to right past wrongs with cutting-edge ideas. A government list of several “cities in crisis” includes Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska, answered my question, in part, by saying he believes mayors can turn cities around. I agreed, I said, but only if the mayors are supported by federal funding that seems to flow into America’s inner cities like glue.

In fact, GOP think tanks have crafted letters urging lawmakers to block every piece of legislation that Obama brings to the House floor and spend the next three years opposing the president’s policies. Basically, they are advising GOP congressional leaders not to work. What a waste of taxpayer money: paying Republicans on Capitol Hill to chill for three more years.

“How much does history play into the decisions made in the Senate?” asked April Ryan of American Urban Radio networks.
“I think all of us — not just me — need to be mindful of the history of this nation and how certain people haven’t always benefited from the largess and the opportunity this nation promises to everyone… if we are not reaching every group then we are failing,” Cowan told Ryan after the roundtable.

And just for a moment, while sitting in a cavernous meeting room on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol, I reflected on history and thought how was appropriate it was for black journalists to hear from United States Senators when African slaves actually helped build the U.S. Capitol.

“One of the things that I found was that actual African-American slaves were used in the construction of the U.S. Capitol and the White House,” said Jesse Holland, author of “Black Men Built the Capitol. “Out of just about the 600 or so people who worked on the Capitol, maybe about 400 were African-American slaves.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Cottman)

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