CINCINNATI — Democrat Barack Obama received a prideful welcome from the annual NAACP convention Monday night, but in a stirring speech to the nation's oldest civil rights organization, he nonetheless insisted blacks must show greater responsibility for improving their own lives.
The man who could become the first black president urged Washington to provide more education and economic assistance. He called on corporate America to exercise greater social responsibility. But he also received his most lusty applause as he urged blacks to demand more of themselves.
"If we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives. There's nothing wrong with saying that," Obama told a crowd estimated at 3,000. "But with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV set and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, setting a good example. That's what everybody's got to do."
He added: "I know some say I've been too tough on folks talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report, I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because as much I'm out there to fight to make sure that government's doing its job and the marketplace is doing its job, ... none of it will make a difference _ at least not enough of a difference _ if we also don't at the same time seize more responsibility in our own lives."
Amid building cheers, Obama declared: "When we are taking care of our own stuff, then a lot of other folks are going to be interested in joining up and working with us and taking care of America's stuff. We can lead by example, as we did in the civil rights movement. Because the problems that plague our community are not unique to us. We just have them a little worse, but they're not unique to us."
Obama, who grew up without his father, has spoken and written at length about issues of parental responsibility and fathers participating in their children's lives. Yet a similar speech by the Illinois senator on Father's Day prompted an awkward rebuke from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Democratic presidential contender in 1984 and 1988, a protege of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a fellow Chicago political activist.
Jackson apologized last week after being caught saying on an open microphone that he wanted to castrate Obama for speaking down to blacks.
Republican candidate John McCain is scheduled to address the NAACP's 99th meeting on Wednesday. President Bush was criticized for not speaking at the convention until 2006 _ his fifth year in office.
Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass denied the candidate was trying to boost support among white voters with his own "Sister Souljah" moment. Addressing a black audience in 1992, Democrat presidential candidate Bill Clinton accused the hip-hop artist of inciting violence against whites. Some black leaders, including Jackson, criticized Clinton, but it helped reinforce his image as a politician who refused to pander.
"It's not just a speech aimed at black audiences. It's aimed at all parents," Douglass said. Noting Obama also called for more corporate and government responsibility, she added: "This is a larger theme of responsibility."
While Jackson complained about such Obama speechmaking, other civil rights activists from the NAACP disagreed. They think Obama is doing a good job balancing his role as a black candidate with the need to speak to all races.
"He can't be totally focused on the black community," said Kelvin Shaw, of Shreveport, La. Shaw said he is most interested in what Obama plans on nationwide economic issues like rising oil prices, household costs and jobs. "We need to be talking about not one race, but what affects all people."
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, the city's first directly elected black mayor, disputed Jackson's argument that Obama is ignoring other important issues for blacks such as unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and the number of blacks in prison.
"I think he absolutely has," Mallory said. Besides his messages about responsibility, Mallory said Obama has talked about jobs, health care, education and other "areas where black people are disproportionately affected."
Civil rights veteran Julian Bond, the NACCP board chairman, drew loud applause in a speech Sunday night when he described Obama's candidacy as a milestone.
"The country seems proud, and I know all of us here are, that a candidate campaigning in cities where he could not have stayed in a hotel 40 years ago has won his party's nomination for the nation's highest office," Bond said.
On the Net: