President Obama and key members of his administration on Tuesday had their annual sit-down with leaders of the nation's top civil rights organizations to discuss how the two sides align on issues critical to the African-American community. The conversation focused largely on closing economic, criminal justice and health care divides, according to attendees, which included the heads of the National Urban League, NAACP, National Bar Association, National Action Network and other groups.
"One thing we applaud is the president's determination to raise the minimum wage and he has taken some important steps by executive action," National Urban League president Marc Morial told BET.com. "We also applaud his new $150 million job training initiative which is designed to help the long-term unemployed. It's something we've been encouraging for some time and in designing this initiative the president has obviously heard our call and recommendations."
Morial said that in addition to getting an update on the Affordable Care Act's enrollment numbers and the effect the law is having in communities, there was a lot of discussion about criminal justice and the steps that Attorney General Eric Holder is taking to reform the system to end disparities.
"We were deeply gratified to hear both the president and the attorney general's commitment in describing the ways in which they stand united in some of the efforts to ensure that our criminal justice system reduces racial disparities and doesn't break communities, as our current criminal justice system is doing, by the kind of mass incarceration, over-sentencing and misuse of the criminal justice system that has been so rampant over the past 20 or 30 years," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Both Morial and Melanie Campbell, who heads the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, were struck by how energized Obama seems in his second term despite efforts to block most of his initiatives. Often at this stage, Campbell told BET.com, presidents tend to lose their energy and focus, but Obama appears to want to achieve as much as he can until he leaves office.
"The most important thing, I think, was his determination in his second term to really leave a very important mark and to set the course of the nation straight," Morial said.
Special adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote in a blog post the next day that "many of the goals the president set forth in his State of the Union address will become reality because of the strong partnerships" he and other members of the administration have formed with the civil rights community.
The leaders also presented the president with a policy report titled "21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom" that he and members of his administration had previously seen only in draft form. Morial said his organization also has conducted an analysis of how the organizations' agenda aligns with the president.
"It's important for him in his second term to achieve action and results from the economy, criminal justice reform and a number of areas where they've already put a stake in the ground," Morial said. "We're going to continue to support the president as well as push him and his administration to make progress on these issues."
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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)