BY JOHN CONYERS
President Barack Obama is unquestionably committed to improving the lives of African Americans across this country.
But, unfortunately, Frederick Harris’ recent column in The Washington Post titled “Still Waiting for our First Black President” completely dismisses all that President Obama has achieved. Nevertheless, Harris is sadly mistaken if he believes that one column can overshadow all that President Obama has accomplished as our first great Black president.
Watching President Obama take the oath of office was a proud moment for me and all African Americans in this country. But President Obama has served African Americans more than just by holding the title as our first Black president, and he has worked tirelessly everyday on behalf of our community. Any attempt to discredit his achievements is an attempt to set us back and all that we have fought for to get to this point.
African Americans know how hard President Obama is working for them, and for all Americans: to create an economy that’s built to last; to provide our children access to affordable education; and to ensure that every American has affordable health care. President Obama took office at a time when our country was teetering on the edge of economic collapse.
President Obama didn’t have time to pat himself on the back for being the nation’s first African American president; he had to get to work. And work he did. Although he faced a Do Nothing Congress, President Obama averted a second Great Depression, passed health care reform, reformed education, increased access to higher education, and passed landmark drug sentencing reform – all policies that have undoubtedly had a positive effect on the African American community.
Every day for the past three and a half years, President Obama has worked tirelessly to put African Americans, and all Americans, back to work, and we have begun to see the fruits of that labor. Over the past 27 consecutive months, our country has seen positive private sector job growth for a total of 4.3 million new jobs.
When the auto industry was against the ropes, President Obama stepped in and saved the industry that was once called “an engine for the African American middle class.” Had President Obama “let Detroit go bankrupt” it would have been catastrophic for the African American community.
Instead, one million jobs were saved up and down the supply chain. Today Chrysler, Ford, and GM are all making record profits and hiring thousands of new workers across the country, many of them African Americans.
And President Obama could not forget what led in large part to the economic recession and had disproportionately affected many of our communities. To ensure that big banks, credit card companies, and payday lenders could not unfairly victimize our communities anymore, President Obama passed Wall Street reform. And because so many of our cities were hit hardest by the recession President Obama made large investments in our urban communities, including investments to increase public housing funds, keep rental assistance properties affordable, purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed homes, and prevent against homelessness.
Additionally, President Obama understands that education is the best investment we can make, and, unfortunately, African American kids are more likely to attend crumbling schools and receive a lower quality education. To level the playing field, President Obama created Race to the Top, expanded educational opportunities for low-income students in urban areas by providing more funding for K-12 education in disadvantaged schools, and provided more funding to jobs training programs to ensure workers have the technical skills they need to remain competitive in an advancing economy.
Harris forgot to give President Obama credit for these initiatives, and he left out even more. Like the fact that the Affordable Care Act will provide more than 7 million previously uninsured African Americans access to affordable health insurance and quality care. Or that President Obama has worked to eliminate discrimination in our criminal justice system by signing the Fair Sentencing Act into law, narrowing the disparity between those convicted of possessing crack cocaine and powdered cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1.
Or that The Obama Administration settled the longstanding Pigford II litigation and that the President signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which strengthens the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, the place of your birth, or the person you love. Or that the Department of Justice directed an investigation into the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Frederick Harris may be completely blind to all that the President and his administration have accomplished for African Americans, but I assure you that it has not gone unnoticed in the African American community. It is clear. When African Americans look for themselves all that President Obama has achieved in his first term, they know that he is not only a great president, but a great Black president.
The choice facing African Americans in this election could not be more clear: they can choose a candidate who would turn back the hands of time on much of what we have fought to achieve, or they can choose a president who has fought on their behalf, has improved their lives, and will continue to move this country forward to a better tomorrow. A grossly misleading column based on fiction will not distract us. We know that our first Black president is truly a great one.
JOHN CONYERS represents Michigan’s 14th Congressional District and serves as the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee. For more information, go to http://conyers.house.gov.