Much has been made about the debate between two of our most respected Black leaders: Tavis Smiley and Rev. Al Sharpton. The two men, both activists in their own way, disagree on whether or not President Obama should openly pursue an “urban agenda.” Smiley thinks Obama should be more aggressive in pursuing a Black agenda and thinks Black leaders are being too soft on him. Sharpton thinks pushing such a plan would put the president in a vulnerable position and that Black leaders, not the president, should pursue a plan for urban improvement. Reverend Sharpton is correct.
Residents of urban areas, many of whom are African-American, suffer disproportionately from many issues mainstream society may not: failing schools, high dropout rates, lack of access to quality and affordable health care, poverty, high unemployment rates and increasing incarceration rates. While we certainly want those who live in these communities to receive increased attention and governmental support, it is not realistic.
America is a country with a variety of people and variety of obstacles to overcome. It is naïve to think the president would be able to push such an agenda through Congress if it is explained as something that would primarily benefit Blacks. As a people, we represent just 12 percent of the population and we don’t have the votes in Congress to get such legislation through. Pursuing a Black agenda would render the president ineffective and he would not succeed.
But let’s be clear: residents in urban areas are benefiting from the president’s efforts. What Obama is doing with his employment and training legislation and what he did with health care and education will undoubtedly affect African-Americans. While these agendas support the entire nation, they will disproportionately benefit urban residents.
Many of our leaders are quick to dismiss the president’s efforts as not being “Black enough.” They should open their eyes and realize that he is delivering to the masses what he promised while also affecting changes in our community. And he’s doing it while trying to work across both political aisles. Although the urban agenda isn’t obvious, the urban benefits are clear. We should applaud and support the president as he works and recognize that he is, in fact, president of the entire United States of America.
(Judge Greg Mathis is vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)