President Obama made a surprise appearance Thursday at the White House’s African-American Policy in Action Leadership Conference. The purpose of the event was to explain to African-American leaders from across the country how the administration’s social and economic policies have impacted Black communities and to share ideas and best practices about how to improve on those policies and do more. As the president and each White House official who participated in the conference noted, there is still a lot left on their to-do lists.
The president also noted that while African-American unemployment has historically always been higher than the national rate, given how high that has gotten since the financial crisis, Black unemployment is now “way too high.” In addition, he said, many of the challenges that African-Americans faced before the crisis, only got worse.
A report titled “The President’s Agenda and the African-American Community” that Obama described as a “compilation” of what the administration has achieved over the past three years was unveiled at the conference. According to the president, their efforts lessened the severity of the economic downturn for millions of people by ensuring that they received unemployment benefits and health care and other services.
“[It] also talks about the foundation that we are laying so that as the economy recovers, the African-American community, and communities all across the country of every stripe, are going to have an opportunity to rebuild so that we are seeing good, solid middle-class jobs with good benefits, and families who are desperate for their piece of the American dream that they’re going to be able to achieve it,” Obama said.
But, he warned in some cases the gratification would be far from instant. So, for example, while public school systems are starting to show improvement, the real “payoff” won’t come until five to ten years from now, Obama said.
“So some of these things are going to be phased in over time, and will not bear full fruit for some years to come. But as all of you know, we’ve got a sense of urgency right now — the fierce urgency of now — when it comes to putting people back to work,” he added.
Martin Luther King, III applauded the president’s desire to provide critical information to Black leaders that they can in turn share with their constituents, but lamented that the administration had not done it sooner.
“If they had, it would have created an opportunity for a different kind of dialogue to take place,” he said, suggesting that it would have been more proactive. In addition, he said, when people are informed, they are better able to articulate their views to their congressional representatives and help influence outcomes.
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