The White House group's agenda was deep--with racial concerns about criminal justice, agriculture, education, health care and economic development when African American leaders met with President Barack Obama last week.
The President assembled black leadership to elaborate on his administration's priorities as described in the State of the Union Address last month and as a wrap-up of a Black History Month series of events at the White House.
It was an honor to represent the National Black Farmers Association and to be included in the discussion with President Obama, Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League and others. (A complete list can be found here.)
In addition to highlighting the upcoming release of a special report from his Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President Obama spoke about his project targeting young males of color, the My Brother's Keeper Initiative, and continuing efforts to reduce restrictions to voting.
Cabinet secretaries who commented during the talks included Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and from the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
The wide-ranging topics on the agenda at the White House covered particularly acute concerns over high rates of heart attacks, stroke and diabetes among African Americans and criminal justice problems of disproportionate levels of imprisonment and lethal use of police force to name a few.
What does this all mean? We as Americans have a lot of work to do. We as black men must teach our children that the justice system is still flawed for justice, and to stay as far away from trouble as they possibly can. We as black leaders must press on for justice!
For me personally the meeting with President Obama was an honor and a opportunity to discuss issues that are important in Rural America. I mentioned during the meeting that disadvantaged farmers have gained significant ground during the Obama presidency. We hailed the redress for past discrimination, including black farmers' settlement for $1.25 billion, the Cobell Settlement for $3.4 billion, the Keepseagle Settlement for $760 million and the Women and Hispanic farmers settlement for $1.3 billion. Many of these cases had been pending for decades. The resources in some of the settlements were paid out in the poorest counties in the country.
By settling these cases it shows that President Obama's heart is in the right place. Sure we have more pressing issues to resolve in our federal government. There are too many disparities to mention.
Voting rights, denied to millions of black Americans for a century after passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution are under siege in many states. That fundamental right of democracy is threatened even as the popular movie "Selma" celebrates the risky Alabama crusade that won passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Every American should see "Selma" I took my family to see the film, which highlights a major struggle of black Americans for freedom and full participation as citizens.
As I prepare to travel to Alabama this week with members of the National Black Farmers Association, I look forward to participating at the 50th anniversary observance of Bloody Sunday in Selma. We anticipate with pride the celebration of a great African American victory over bigotry and discrimination.
President Obama's expected remarks in Selma on March 7th will add to his record of progress in the continuing struggle toward justice and equitable treatment for black Americans. It is not a perfect record, but it far outshines the actions of many previous administrations. And it sets the bar higher for future occupants of the Oval Office. And it lifts the expectations of those in our communities--both for what government should do and for what we should strive toward to be our own solution.
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