By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – A group of civil rights leaders met with President Obama and several members of his cabinet last week to discuss the “1963-2013: 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom,” a formal document with more than 90 legislative policy and priority recommendations.
In a statement released after the meeting, Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, said that it was one of the most substantive meetings he has had with any president.
“We covered a broad spectrum of concerns from the civil rights community including unemployment, minimum wage, and job training; as well as concerns about restoring and protecting our voter rights, and state laws that we feel threaten our civil rights such as Stand Your Ground which is in 23 states,” said Sharpton.
Even though some have called it the “Black Agenda” civil rights leaders want people to know that they have been working with the president on many of the policy priorities since he took office.
Right after the president’s re-election in 2012, Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said that he and other civil rights leaders felt the need to develop a set of formal, written policy priorities to be presented not only to the president but also to his cabinet and Congress.
The agenda focused on five primary objectives:
1. Achieve Economic Parity for African-Americans
2. Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity
3. Protect and Defend Voting Rights
4. Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities
5. Achieve Comprehensive Criminal Justice System Reform
Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation said that discussions surrounding the “1963-2013: 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom” will stretch far past the White House. The goal is to use the agenda to engage other government agencies and departments as well, said Campbell.
“This administration is always looking for new ideas,” said Campbell “The agenda was just a comprehensive way of presenting those ideas.”
Those ideas range from job creation and training programs to updating programs that fund historically Black colleges and universities to financial assistance to care for people with mental health disorders.
Contrary to criticism from some members of the Black community that wonder why it took the civil rights organizations so long to craft the document, Campbell reiterated the fact that the many of the groups have engaged the president, collectively and individually, on a number of key issues.
Morial said that the agenda reflects the idea that the civil rights groups have to be much more collaborative and much more unified than ever before.
The National Urban League also crafted a document that showed how many of the priorities outlined in the president’s State of the Union address align with recommendations spelled out in the agenda.
The 21st Century Agenda calls for a higher minimum wage, funding for urban infrastructure projects, full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and support for early childhood education.
“What people do not know is that those are the things that we have been encouraging for the last several years,” said Morial.
Morial continued: “Before income inequality became a mainstream, hot button issue, Black civil rights organizations back in 2010, 2011 and 2013 were encouraging the president to increase his focus on it. This State of the Union this second term agenda reflects an embrace of some of the recommendations that we have been making over the years.”
Morial also noted that Attorney General Eric Holder has taken on criminal justice reform in a way that is unprecedented. Holder called for states to reform or repeal laws that banned ex-felons from voting during an event at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. The attorney general expressed support for sentencing reform and new guidelines for prosecutors at public events last year.
“The criminal justice reforms highlighted in the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom have long been a concern to the civil and human rights community,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Our community has raised these issues repeatedly and loudly, and we’ve refused to be ignored. What we’re seeing now – after many years of activism – is a harmonic convergence of economic, political and moral interests coming together to increase momentum in support of common sense reforms to make our criminal justice system more fair, humane, and just.”
Morial called for the Black community to discuss, comment, praise, criticize, add to the “21 Century Agenda” in meaningful ways.
“We are firmly convinced the president will fight for jobs, training, minimum wage and voting rights as well as explore the other areas of concern,” said Sharpton “We are determined to build this country and make it work for everyone equally and fairly.”