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President Obama's Challenge to Keep Nation Competitive Should Resonate with Black America

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By Janis Hazel, NNPA Contributor –

(NNPA) President Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address unsurprisingly focused on job creation while challenging all Americans to keep the United States competitive in the global marketplace.

"Sustaining the American dream has never been about standing pat," President Obama said. "It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age. Now it's our turn."

Repeatedly encouraging Americans to “win the future” through creativity, the president compared the current need for innovation in technology to the space race against the Soviet union in the 1950s and 1960s. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” said the president, referring to the world’s first earth-orbiting man-made satellite launched by the communist nation in October 1957, which resulted in the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Act (NASA). "Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist," he said. "But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs."

Speaking for a little more than an hour, President Obama challenged all Americans to work together to move this nation forward. “The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still,” he said. “We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.”

James Mitchell, president of the National League of Cities (NLC), reflecting on President Obama's speech agreed with the vision. "The National League of Cities shares the President's vision for our nation's future in investing in education, reforming our immigration system in a comprehensive manner, promoting innovation in our communities, rebuilding our nation's infrastructure, and eliminating regulatory barriers to growth,” said the Charlotte, NC Council member. He pointed out that “cities are where ideas turn into action. Investment and innovation are essential, if our communities are to grow and prosper as the nation recovers from the recession.”

On the local level, “City leaders recognize that fiscal discipline is essential to the economic stability of our communities and our nation, as the vast majority of cities are required to balance their budgets every year… As our nation, our communities, and families continue to climb back from the depths of the recession, NLC applauds the President's call for a partnership.”

But, the president’s speech did not go far enough, said the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) President and CEO Harry Alford. “We are excited about the President’s change of position towards taxes. Tax cuts for oil companies and other corporations should lower prices and create more jobs. He also promoted Free Trade which is a refreshing new approach for President Obama. Other than that it was rather flat,” said Alford. “We are in a financial crisis like never before. What we needed from him was a “home run” that would give us optimism and motivate Wall Street. We are still waiting.”

Black America has suffered nearly double the unemployment rate of White America, during the economic crisis. Taking on the challenge to lift Black America, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and member of the House Committee on Financial Services (the committee with jurisdiction over all issues pertaining to the economy, the banking system, housing, insurance, and securities and exchanges), stated the message of President Obama’s State of the Union Address should resonate with Black America. “Our country continues to confront remarkably high job loss with unemployment nearly double the national average in the African American community. As President Barack Obama eloquently stated, there is still much work to be done. Not only to heal our economy and put Americans back to work, but to reclaim the American Dream.” He went on to say “I am encouraged to press on with the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus working with Democrats and Republicans alike to develop innovative policy to get our nation’s economy and our communities moving forward to full economic recovery and social equality. Through supporting infrastructure investment, small businesses, reforming education, and defending and implementing healthcare reform our future looks bright. As the Congressional Black Caucus, however, we serve constituencies that continue to struggle to find their place in the American Dream. Tonight, President Obama has challenged us all. This is another call to action and reminder for us to continue laying the foundation for our children in making the great promise of America, the practice of America.”

Improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education was a central theme of the President’s State of the Union Address. The President’s emphasis on higher education should be applauded, said Meta Renee Williams, Executive Director, Federal Agency Relations for the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). “From the standpoint of higher education, I am very, very encouraged that the president continues to support higher education,” said Williams. Specifically, she said Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) should be “encouraged by the position we sensed between the two (political) parties. It is clear HBCUs have a major role to play in the president’s 2020 (initiative), if America is going to be successful in achieving the goal” of meeting President Obama’s commitment to ensure that America will regain its lost ground and have the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020.

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