Saturday, November 18, 2017
Keeping It Real: America Has a Black President
By Rev. Al Sharpton
Published January 22, 2009

For the first time in my life, America will have a President from my race and generation. Aside from race and age my hopes and expectations for his presidency are also intertwined with the hopes and expectations of myself and our generation.

At the outset I know that, while we all wish it were otherwise, challenges will continue to plague our nation throughout Obama's presidency. There still will be racial issues like Jena Six, tragic police-community exchanges, i.e. the Oakland case, Sean Bell case etc., and severe economic hardship, and our broken education system will not be fully fixed. But I firmly believe that President Obama–with America's help–can make significant strides in all of these areas. In fact, they are all related.

Dramatically improving education, the civil rights issue of our time, is central. Appointing Arne Duncan as the Secretary of Education is a significant first step, and I hope his administration will continue to change the conversation and course of education. My belief is that President Obama will close the devastating achievement gap between white and black and brown students so that all of America's children have the opportunity to learn and thrive. Currently, almost half of America's black children never make it out of high school. As significant, our universally flawed education system makes it virtually impossible for the vast majority of America's children of any color to compete for the best jobs. To think on a global level that the Unites States educational system is behind many industrialized nations is intolerable and demands immediate and collective attention.

Vital to the continued evolution of a more just America is to have a justice system that is fair, impartial and responds swiftly to instances of discrimination and police misconduct. I believe that the Obama administration understands the simple notion that all crimes,

whether committed by a criminal or a policeman must be prosecuted. And whereas the community must feel that all or even most policeman engage in this behavior, the community must be reassured when there are questions of misconduct they will fairly be examined. I am also confident that America will have a Justice Department that will be open and accessible to hear allegations of such misconduct. That does not mean, nor should it, that every claim of discrimination or police misconduct brought to light will be pursued, but the very idea that America has a Justice Department on its side when addressing these issues will bring about systemic change.

Obviously, President Obama is going to have to improve a disastrous national economy. Again, I expect that as he improves the economy, his plan will help lower and middle class Americans as well. This also means that Blacks and Latinos that are disproportionately unemployed must be of particular concern as we create jobs and trainings for small businesses and entrepreneurs so that we have the ability first to survive this recession and then thrive when our economy is back on track.

Finally, while I do not necessarily expect the Obama administration to continue the dialogue on race in America, I sincerely hope that it does. I also think that wedded to that discussion that President Obama should be joined by Black and Latino leaders in preaching personal responsibilities and no more excuses. He has a unique ability as the first African American President to help guide this nation in dealing with the continued institutional inequality but at the same time challenge the Black community and communities of color that family and parental responsibility is as important as closing those gaps if people are not responsible the closing of the gap will mean nothing for people ill-prepared to rise to that occasion and community leaders must vocally support him in these efforts.

The struggle for fairness and equity did not end with the election of Barack Obama but we can make great strides toward that end. President Obama will need the support of all Americans and all Americans will need him to not be satisfied with being the first African American President. He must strive to be the last American President of a divided nation.


Categories: Op-Ed

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