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We Await the Next Step Forward on Jobs

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It was a blistery 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 request letter to meet with the President to address issues of severe concern. With Black unemployment now at 16.5 percent 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 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.

For far too long, we as African- Americans have been excluded from the conversation. Labor and big business have unjustly dominated the discussion and pushed for their own interests, meanwhile the people have been silenced. Unions long discriminated against us and didn’t allow us a seat at the negotiating table. In 2010, we cannot continue to ignore the dire needs of the community. We are not asking for Black exclusivity, but for inclusivity.

The three of us were extremely pleased that President Obama made it a priority to meet with civil rights leaders who have been pressing for methods to alleviate the burdens of ordinary citizens who played no role in the economic downfall but are suffering the most in its aftermath. It’s time for an effective jobs bill that can begin to end the economic hardship facing so many families across the nation.

This meeting was a tremendous move in the right direction, and we are all anxiously anticipating the next step forward in this path to recovery.

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