It was a blistery Wednesday afternoon as Washington, D.C. was bombarded with a blizzard that dumped anywhere from 1 ½ to 2 feet of snow. Schools were closed, streets were vacant and most federal offices were even shut down. But amidst the massive winter storm, one location remained vividly functioning as the President of the United States welcomed our arrival. And Marc Morial of the National Urban League, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP and I couldn’t have been more anxious to trudge through the snow for a more pertinent cause than the cause of rectifying catastrophic unemployment.
Following Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, Morial, Jealous, myself and our dear friend Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women drafted a re quest letter to meet with the President to address issues of severe concern. With Black unemployment now at 16.5% nationwide, and flailing economies in urban and rural communities, we stressed the urgent need to assist those who were already suffering before this most recent financial crisis. In short, our push was, and is, for inclusion at the table – a table that has too long catered to those in power, and not to the people.
Shortly after our letter to the President, we were more than pleased to receive an invitation from Obama for an initial meeting, and last Wednesday, he kept that promise despite treacherous conditions outside. Although Dorothy Height was unable to make it due to the inclement weather, Morial, Jealous, Obama and I began a necessary discussion surrounding the ominous unemployment numbers and their negative impact on disenfranchised communities. And I’m proud to say that we all agreed to expand this conversation within the administration moving forward.
Many on the right accused us of trying to push a ‘Black agenda’, and made insulting statements regarding the President’s ethnic background. But let us not for one minute misconstrue what our purpose and the President’s purpose was. This was not a ‘race meeting’ nor a meeting on ‘Black issues’. It was, and will remain, a focus on the basic human right for all people to be self-sustained and gainfully employed. In essence, our goal is to ensure that everyone eventually lives in an economic environment that spurs development, not bankruptcy.