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Black Leaders Recommend Policies to Obama, Congress

By Hazel Trice Edney


National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial

( group of Black leaders who first convened Dec. 3 to discuss ways to hold the Obama
Administration and other government bodies accountable to African-American concerns has returned to the table with policy suggestions for the Congress and White House.

“The reintroduction of the Urban Jobs Act, and the American Jobs Act, comprehensive Senate hearings on voter suppression efforts, gun safety and juvenile justice reform” are among initial federal policy suggestions listed by National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial and at least 60 heads of civil rights, social justice, labor, faith and educational organizations, according to a statement distributed after a second meeting Friday, Jan. 25.

“When we gathered here a little over a month ago, we urged our nation’s leaders to commit to economic and educational parity for communities of color,” said a joint statement distributed by the group's convenor, Morial, National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President/CEO Ben Jealous, and National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President/Melanie Campbell. “Today, we present our recommendations on how best to achieve those goals."

The leaders described the meeting as the second step in a process that started shortly after the election, during which they outlined in a statement “five urgent priorities for the nation”. Those priorities are: to achieve economic parity for African-Americans; promote equity in educational opportunities; protect and defend voting rights; promote a healthier nation by eliminating healthcare disparities; and achieve comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system.

It remains to be seen whether the White House or Congress are listening. A litmus test will be when President Obama outlines his priorities in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

In last week’s nation, the group called for the following:

  • Congressional reintroduction and passage of the Urban Jobs Act, “which would allocate resources for job
    training, education, and support services and activities for eligible young adults to prepare them for entry into the workforce, and which would establish a National Jobs Council Advisory Committee.
  • President Obama to “address the jobs crisis in urban communities during his upcoming State of the Union
  • President Obama to also reintroduce the American Jobs Act, including initiatives they had supported such as “a combination of tax cuts, investments and incentives to put Americans back to work and speed the growth of the economy.”
  • President Obama and Congress to support gun reforms that would not only included a ban on all assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but “closure of the gun show loophole and, universal background checks.”
  • A focus by Congress and the White House “on violence prevention, including investments in programs that
    create safe spaces for kids during out of school time and improved mental illnesss services and treatment.”
  • Mobilization around and attention to the upcoming Supreme Court case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, to be argued Feb. 27. The suit challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states and counties to undergo Justice Department review of any changes in districts or voting rules because of their history of discriminatory voting practices.

According to the release, “The leaders also endorsed Congressman Chaka Fattah’s (D-Pa.) call for comprehensive Senate hearings into widespread voter suppression efforts. Those hearings would include testimonies from “citizens whose rights were trampled leading up to the 2012 election”.

“It’s ironic that the most serious challenge to voting rights in a generation has coincided with an unprecedented campaign to slash investments in education and economic development; not to mention the commemoration of two of the most pivotal events in our history—the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington,” Campbell said. “The right to vote will be key to realizing our shared goals, which include education, job training and economic growth.”

The leaders also pointed out that “a major barrier to economic parity and full participation in the democratic process, especially for young men of color, is the nation’s dysfunctional and discriminatory criminal justice system.”

“Study after study has shown that students of color face harsher punishments in school than their White peers, African-American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates, and African-American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison,” Jealous said. “One in 13 African-Americans of voting age is disenfranchised because of a prior criminal conviction. That’s a staggering statistic that
reveals the desperate need for reform.”

During his Inauguration speech, the President spoke strongly on the importance of diversity and equality, but gave no specifics pertaining to problems disparately faced by African-Americans. The civil rights organizations - though non-partisan – are largely responsible for the major voter turnout of the Democratic base in the Obama first and second elections. Early in his second term, they appear to be watching the White House and state houses with great expectations.

Says Sharpton, “We cannot attain parity while the unemployment crisis goes unaddressed, while two-fifths of incarcerated youth are African-American, and while elected officials at the state level are more interested in excluding people of color from the democratic process than in addressing their concerns.”

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