Monday, March 08, 2010

Obama’s Black Agenda Is The American Agenda

President Barack Obama Is Quietly Moving Forward With A Plan For Black America. He’s Just Not Talking About It.
Obama’s Black Agenda Is The American Agenda

By: Michael H. Cottman,
Date: Friday, March 05, 2010

President Barack Obama is quietly moving forward with a plan for black America. He’s just not talking about it.

It’s probably a good idea.

Obama has been criticized recently – particularly by commentator Tavis Smiley – for not speaking out directly on behalf of African-Americans and failing to specifically address the needs of the black community through a symbolic “black agenda.”

That’s nonsense.

Obama is the nation’s first black president, and, while he was elected with overwhelming support from African-Americans, he’s not a president just for black folks. Critics like Smiley won’t be able to strong arm Obama into publicly announcing some sort of black agenda. The president is resistant to bullying tactics, no matter who is doing the bullying.

Smiley appeared on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" early last week and chastised black leaders, saying Obama had not been pressed hard enough in a White House meeting - one with Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, National Urban League's Marc Morial and the NAACP'S Ben Jealous - to act in the interest of African-Americans.

Smiley said “a chorus of black leaders have started singing a new song,” - that the president doesn’t need a black agenda. He then announced that he would host an accountability forum in Chicago on March 20 entitled "We Count: The Black Agenda is the American Agenda."

This is real-world politics. Those who feel Obama has not manned-up enough for black Americans reveal a lack of political maturity about how Washington works. Obama is still navigating his way through the rough-and-tumble politics on Capitol Hill, but he has learned this: Don’t telegraph every idea publicly. Just do it.

And so, Obama, through a number of federal agencies and aggressive policies, is actually creating a comprehensive blueprint for black America – it just doesn’t have a label. And does it really need one?

Here’s what’s important: The issues of concern to black Americans have been put on paper and sent to Congress. The mark of a committed politician is gauged in large part by a budget. Many lawmakers talk a good game, but often won't fund their own proposals. Former President George W. Bush boasted repeatedly about his landmark idea, "No Child Left Behind." But he forgot to pay for it.

Consider these budget highlights from the Obama administration.

- Education: Last week, Obama signed an executive order for historically black colleges and universities to strengthen the relationship between HBCUs and the federal government. Obama is also extending resources to HBCUs and their students, including $95 million in the 2011 budget and $850 million over 10 years, as well as increasing the Pell Grant maximum to nearly $6,000. Obama also announced at a recent event with Colin and Alma Powell an effort to combat the dropout crisis in America by investing $3.5 billion in underperforming schools. These resources will go into urban communities in some of the toughest schools, where the dropout rates are highest among African Americans.

- Economics: The 2011 budget calls for $85 million for green jobs training and $40 million for transitional jobs programs, which the administration says will create opportunities for many African-Americans. Last year, the Recovery Act provided nearly $3 billion in financing for minority businesses and for innovative programs such as the Pathways Out of Poverty job training initiative. Recently, the Treasury Department announced support for minority businesses through the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. The 2011 budget calls for $250 million for the CDFI Fund, including $140 million for distressed communities.

- Health Care: Getting a health care bill passed that will expand access, reduce costs for families and also reduce health disparities over the long term is important to the black community. In 2009, the Obama administration invested some $85 million for community centers nationwide, expanding access to health care and making it more available in areas of need. First Lady Michelle Obama says the obesity epidemic is impacting African-American children disproportionately because of the challenges faced in health care costs.

- Inner Cities: Obama created The White House Office on Urban Affairs to spend billions of dollars over the next three years to revitalize urban centers in areas that include education, housing, health care, poverty, transportation, infrastructure and safety. The Obama administration has identified several “cities in crisis” that include Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Obama is proposing to allocate $8.1 billion for nutrition programs for pregnant women, new mothers and infants; $1.6 billion to expand child care opportunities and $989 million for Head Start.

- The Environment: Lisa Jackson, the first African-American to head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is leading massive clean-up training projects at abandoned gas stations, old textile mills, closed smelters and industrial and commercial properties in black communities across the country, and she is addressing the issue of environmental racism head on. Obama has empowered Jackson to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up years of toxic mess in underserved and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods – places where environmental clean-ups are needed most.

Those are the facts. It still might not be enough for Obama’s black critics, but in reviewing the budget, it appears the president has found numerous ways to help African-Americans in need while looking out for the needs of all of Americans.

Could this be a black agenda? Call it what you want.

I call it progress.

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