Black Leaders Happy to Hear Obama Discuss Urban Concerns

The challenge now will be to turn the president's State of the Union address into action.

Posted: 02/13/2013 12:13 PM EST

Minimum wage. Gun violence. Voting rights. These are the kinds of African-American leaders' want to hear about and President Obama didn't disappoint when he touched upon each of them in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

"People were yearning to hear him stand up to the gun lobby and stand up for the long-term unemployed, the need to raise the minimum wage and universal [pre-school education] for all children," NAACP president Ben Jealous told BET.com. "I think, quite frankly, we also heard tonight the president's response to the call from the human and civics rights movement in this country for a more inclusive nation."

Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, one of several lawmakers who invited a victim of gun violence to the capitol for the speech, praised Obama's effort to pressure Republicans to at least vote on proposed gun control measures. He's also more optimistic than others and thinks that several of his GOP colleagues may surprise the nation by offering their support for the measures.

Now the challenge is getting it all done.

Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, like Jealous, believes Obama's speech reflected concerns expressed by African-American leaders and was a sign that he's finally listening to them. But, like Jealous, he recognizes the major challenge ahead will be to turn Obama's ambitious agenda into action.

Cleaver said that he plans to formally propose a Camp David summit at which Republican and Democratic leaders from both chambers of Congress will meet with Obama at the presidential retreat to discuss sequestration and how to avert the March 1 deadline when automatic domestic spending cuts are set to take effect.

"If we can bring Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev Yasser Arafat to Camp David to work on world peace, surely we can do that to work on peace here at home in the Capitol," Cleaver said.

But Jealous believes it boils down to whether Republicans, having failed on their intent to oust Obama from his job, will now settle down and do the job they were elected to do and start solving the tough problems.

"The president laid out a core American agenda for moving our nation forward and now the ball's in Congress' court," he said. "Republicans need to decide whether they're going to stand between our nation and progress on so many issues or do their job and work with peers on both sides of the aisle to complete the job that the nation needs done."

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(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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