By Starla Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –
CHICAGO - In 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was elected with overwhelming support from Black voters. More than 90 percent of Blacks voted for him in the presidential election and his victory was a source of pride.
However, while the president's approval ratings are still high, recent polls show a decline in popularity. Announcing his plans for re-election in April, maintaining strong support among Black voters is key. Unemployment among Blacks is still high at 15.5 percent despite the overall unemployment rate decreasing.
Critics say President Obama may be taking the Black vote for granted as members of the Democratic Party have been accused of for years. “Where previous Democratic administrations have treated Black communities with benign neglect, Obama's policy is best described as depraved indifference,” wrote Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report in a recent online posting.
With that perception in mind, the Obama administration recently launched a series of town hall meetings targeting Black communities across the U.S. Almost simultaneously, the White House launched http://www.whitehouse.gov/africanamericans, as a way for Blacks to get information on policies, programs, and initiatives the administration says help the Black community.
The town hall meetings, themed, “Winning the future,” are open forums, which allow the public to ask questions directly to White House personnel. Michael Blake, director of African American and Minority Business Outreach from the White House Office of Public Engagement was in Chicago, in mid-April, for a town hall meeting on the city's South Side.
Along with Mr. Blake, the event featured and Congressman Danny Davis Jr. (D-Il) and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and was moderated by radio host Matt McGill of WVON 1690 AM. Hundreds packed a standing room only overflow room at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church to voice opinions about the White House agenda for the Black community.
One area of success shared Mr. Blake, was the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) through the U.S. Commerce Department being awarded $7 billion in grants to advance the growth of minority owned businesses. However, this includes Black, Latino, and women-owned businesses. What remains unclear is what dollar amount was received by Black-owned businesses.
Questions remain as to why information has been so slow reaching the Black community. One problem could be that the Obama administration has not allocated enough resources to spread word of their accomplishments, which directly impact Black people, even Mr. Blake admitted that this “office of African-American affairs” is comprised only of himself and an intern. Additionally, Mr. Blake said, he only sees President Obama “every few weeks.”
Congressman Davis reminded the audience President Obama took office when the country was about to go to “hell in a hand basket.” Mr. Davis told the audience he was not present to be an apologist for the White House or President Obama but said were it not for steps taken by the administration; he is not sure whether the banking system would have survived.
“If we didn't do the health reform that people are trying to erode and wipe out, just in my congressional district alone the health reform bill improves healthcare and access for 350,000 people,” said Rep. Davis to applause.
Blake said though there is a long way to go, progress has been made he said that has benefited the Black community. “People are still hurting right now and we're not where we need to be and we're trying to get to where we need to be, but as Congressman Davis will tell you, it's hard right now working with some folks that don't want to work with you,” a clear reference to the Republicans, he told the audience.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan warned President Obama prior to his election about the forces that govern domestic and international politics. He has also encouraged President Obama to use his prominent position to speak for the weak and speak for the poor who supported him overwhelmingly. In a previous interview with WVON's Cliff Kelley, Farrakhan said that as a Black man, President Obama does not wish to address the concerns that God wants the American government to address, such as the lack of justice for the weak, poor, and Brown, Red, Black and poor White.
A vocal group attempted to pose questions to Blake regarding President Obama's decision to go to war with the North African nation of Libya, however, the meeting was ended abruptly before they could receive answers.
Before ending the meeting Blake urged audience members to contact his office at 202-456-4772 or email him at email@example.com to share their concerns.