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.

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)

6 thoughts on “ANALYSIS: Black Journalists Meet With US Senators About Race and Jobs

  1. If there were any integrity instilled in the elected officials of (predominately minority) cities like Detroit where Drug Dealers are the No.1 Employer of young Black males, making Jail a for-profit business where it costs upwards of $75K/year to house one man that you wouldn’t pay $25K/year to sweep the streets, would foster independence.
    But No, they don’t want that, the same way the Detroit educational system had a $340 Million Deficit as of 2010 and when the new comptroller came in to “change things around” he eventually was brought off as well, tempted by the lure of easy money and greed!

    Until that integrity is returned, where people stand up for what’s right, won’t take bribes because it goes against their moral code of ethics, these problems will continue.

    Outsourcing was the economic design to eliminate the Black race from working in Corporate America! Now, America has betrayed us all, where White folks are experiencing the same economic neglect we experienced during the 1970s, where older Black men stand on various abandoned street corner of any given city, talking about what they “used to” have, all while using Alcohol and Drugs to pacify the pain of poverty!

    Technology allowed us to rise up again, and in turn, our politicians endorsed the H1B Visa program allowing Guest Workers to take jobs minorities qualified for, forcing us out of the workforce!
    Now that there is a saturation of workers to compete for the same jobs, there’s no longer any law in place that says, they “have to” hire Blacks.
    Our economic disparity is directly linked to our lack of employment – NOT our lack of skills, as there are more “degree-holding” Blacks today than any time throughout our history, but those who hold the coveted sheepskin still must “settle” for a job in Civil Service.
    Also chronicled in the eBook: Red White AND Poor, how Economics & Outsourcing have Racially Divided America, via,
    Despite the title – America needs to practice Americanism first and come together as the Human Race!

  2. FIFTY AND PHUNE on said:

    Detroit problems begins with the ELECTED officials. What are they doing to bring JOBS and economic wealth to the city. What are the ELECTED school board members doing about the schools.

  3. Black America is in pretty bad shape but the President cannot change what has been happening in this country for over 500 by himself. WE need to step up our game and march on Washington, North Carolina, Arizona, etc., Our voices need tobe heard that we are not going to take this anymore. Every bill the President tries to put thru to save the economy, the Republican control house votes it down. People wake up and get them out of office in 2014. Please do not sit at home thinking your vote will not manner. Why do you think the Republicans are trying so hard to change the voting laws to benefit themselves?

  4. This article is another reason people of color need to VOTE in the 2014 election in huge numbers. Only if the democrats can get control of the house and keep control of senate will anything get done in our cities. Failure is the republicans game plan.

  5. jhuff on said:

    So next week journalists of Asian, Spanish, African Countries will get there turns? In 2008 these same journalist’s Swooned like high school girls at the “Change we can believe in!” and my favorite “Yes we can!!” well apparently NO HE CAN’T. It’s a wonderful thing to finally have a Black President However we have to stop looking to government to GIVE us Sh*t reading this article makes me think AA’s need special treatment or care cause we’re not able to make it on our own

  6. hoodtechie on said:

    Michael Cottman, Negro please you need to stand down and shut up. For the past 4 years obama has been in office he has also ignored the black community, you just won’t admit it. Black journalist meeting with a bunch of white senators. If the democrats are so diverse how come they don’t have one black senator? At least under bush you had a black secretary of state, black (republican) senator and a black chief of staff. But under obama & clinton none of these positions were occupied by a person of color and you black journalist sat by quiet like good little children. Now due to all the pressure from the black community you want to sit down and ask why, to little to late.This is a lame duck president who cares more about his legacy(whatever that will be) than anything you journalist have to ask.You,our so called black leaders the naacp,cbc,nat’l action network etc… all sat by and watched this president ignore our needs and said nothing, just made excuses for his actions. So please sit down and shut up because it’s obvious that all of the fore mentioned have once again let our communities down. To late and try and save face now, your hypocrisy has been exposed.

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