White House hosts first African-American Policy Conference

(NNPA)—President Barack Obama acknowledged last week that Black Americans have faced “enormous challenges” with unemployment under his watch, and appealed for their support in pursuing solutions that he can implement without help from Congress.

Appearing at the daylong summit of Black business, community and political leaders that included Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the president used the conference to lay out his policy achievements three years after winning the Oval Office with the solid embrace of Black Americans.

UNSCHEDULED VISIT—President Barack Obama makes an unscheduled visit to the African American Policy in Action Leadership Conference, Nov. 9, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

He also called for “persistence” in the face of tough times. He restated his belief that the 15.1 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans is “way too high” and touted the administration’s accomplishments in spite of the political resistance the administration has faced. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Obama said.

“Now, some of these strategies are longer term—all the good work that we’ve done, for example, in education,” Obama said in the first White House gathering of his administration to be devoted to policies directly affecting African-Americans. “The payoff is not going to be tomorrow. It’s not going to be next year. It’s going to be five years from now and 10 years from now as we steadily see improvement in the performance of our public schools.”

The conference was convened in the wake of a stream of criticism of Obama from Black pundits such as talk show host Tavis Smiley and scholar Cornel West who say his policies haven’t touched African-Americans in the way many Black voters expected.

The president’s appearance was not on the official agenda of the Conference.

Audience members jumped to their feet and cheered when the president walked onto the stage, interrupting a question-and-answer session for a panel that included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.

National Urban League (NUL) President Marc Morial, who was invited to the conference but was not able to attend, hasn’t been part of the chorus of critics of Obama but said a conference of this magnitude should’ve happened much sooner. “Many of us would have preferred it if this had been held earlier,” Morial told The Root. “But that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is that there’s a commitment by the White House to strengthen the dialogue with a broader group of leaders who are very interested in the direction of the country, and who represent communities that have really taken for the worse in the recession.”

Obama says that we’ve been through tough times before though and with a little persistence, America can rise from this recession, too.

“Our parents have been through tougher times; our grandparents have been through tougher times,” Obama said. “We know tough times. And what we also know, though, is that if we are persistent, if we are unified, and we remain hopeful, then we’ll get through these tough times and better days lie ahead.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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