A few weeks ago, inside my barber shop in Washington, D.C., a somewhat frustrated customer wondered aloud if President Barack Obama would move forward with a “black agenda” in his last term in the White House.
The customer’s thinking was that Obama has nothing to lose in his final two years as the nation’s first black president and could feel more comfortable with his blackness. Many black Americans have said privately they want the president to be more outspoken on race and lead initiatives specifically designed to uplift African Americans.
Well now it’s happening.
I believe the president is focusing more specifically –and publicly — on helping black folks. Call it a black agenda or call it the right thing to do, but there is no doubt that Obama is using his White House bully pulpit to talk about social justice.
Consider this: At the White House this week, Obama met with several civil rights leaders including Rev. Al Sharpton about raising the minimum wage, black unemployment, health care, voting rights and education.
“We talked extensively about the challenges of unemployment, the challenges of under-employment, the challenges of black and urban and brown unemployment in this nation,” Marc Morial, president of The National Urban League, told reporters after the meeting with Obama and U.S Attorney Eric Holder.
“It was helpful to us to hear the president and his team clarify some misconceptions about the Affordable Care Act, one (being) that it adds to the deficit when all the projections are that it will reduce the deficit,” Morial said. “This president’s ear, this president’s concern for our community is as strong as ever.”
Next week at the White House, Obama will unveil “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative,” a national program designed to improve the quality of life for young African American boys.
And, in addition, Obama, a father with two daughters, has an ambitious vision for the nation’s black students during his last two years in the White House: ensuring that all African-American pupils receive an education that fully gets them ready for high school graduation, college completion and productive careers in a highly competitive global job market.
After signing an executive order that created the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2012, the president is dedicating new resources to enable African-American students to improve their educational achievement and prepare them for college and a range of professions after graduation.
There’s more. Last year, Obama announced the new leadership team for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Joining the HBCU Initiative as Executive Director is Dr. George Cooper with Dr. Ivory Toldson serving as the Deputy Director. As part of the leadership team for the White House Initiative on HBCUs, both Cooper and Toldson will work with the presidentially appointed HBCU Board of Advisors and assist Secretary Arne Duncan as a liaison between the executive branch and HBCUs across the country.
In January, in an article published in the New Yorker, Obama talked candidly about his blackness “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president,” Obama said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president.”
And last year, in powerful and revealing comments in the White House briefing room, Obama talked about Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012 because Zimmerman thought the unarmed teenager looked suspicious.
“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said this could’ve been my son. Another way of saying that is, Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Obama said in an unexpected appearance in the White House briefing room. “When you think about why in the African-American community, at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, it’s important to recognize the African-
American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and history that doesn’t go away.”
Obama is speaking out about being black and male in America, but more important the president is creating substantive initiatives that could benefit black Americans for many years to come.
Some of the president’s black critics, however, have questioned why Obama didn’t step up to discuss race during his first term in the White House, but it’s not about lamenting the past, it should be about embracing new initiatives for black Americans and appreciating this moment in history.
“It was one of the most substantive meetings I have had with any President,” Sharpton told reporters after the meeting with Obama. “We are firmly convinced the President will fight for jobs, training, minimum wage and voting rights as well as explore the other areas of concern that we raised.”
Sounds like a black agenda to me.
What do you think?
(Photo: Courtesy of the White House)