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President Obama to Black Press: 'I still need your help.'

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By J. Coyden Palmer, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Crusader –

After nearly two years in office and his support within the Black community still high but dropping, President Barack Obama held his first press conference via telephone with Black newspapers. The 25-minute teleconference on October 18th gave the nation’s first African American president the opportunity to speak to the demographic that supported him the most during his 2008 victory. Obama used the time to campaign for support in the upcoming mid-term elections, tout the accomplishments that have been made thus far by his administration and listen to a few of the concerns the Black community has raised about his administration.

Obama began by speaking to the philosophy of his campaign, “Change,” saying it is important for the same energy that swept the community during his campaign to continue throughout his administration in order for “Change” to come. He said the public health care that was passed is just one key change he has made to help better the lives of all Americans. But, he said though progress has been made, the economy is still a major issue.

“People are still hurting out there,” Obama began. “Despite the economy showing signs of growth, there are still too many Americans unemployed or underemployed.”

The President said he expects to be in a battle with Congress to get many of his new initiatives passed. However, he said he is still willing to work with Republicans to get things moving forward. But, he added based on the political climate, he thinks it will be easier to get things done with more Democrats in Congress.

“I have a great deal of confidence that if there is a democrat here in Washington there will be folks that I can work with to continue making progress on helping small businesses and making sure there are programs in place to help blighted neighborhoods and continue to work on a new infrastructure program that can put more people to work as we continue to invest in clean energy,” Obama said. “Democrats are going to be far less likely to cut education spending by 20 percent as the Republicans have suggested. What I say to your readers is look at what the Democrats did over the past two years and there were things that were good for America and things that were good on behalf of the African American community.”

Danny Bakewell, President of the National Newspapers Publishers Association, a conglomerate of African American owned newspapers throughout the country, asked the President why the Democratic Party is not advertising with the Black press when it is the one media genre that has carried his messages from the beginning. Bakewell said with Black newspapers folding around the country due to economics, the industry needs help to survive. Obama responded that it is an issue that needs to be taken up with the Democratic Party leaders and not him as President of the United States.

“As President of the United States I can’t have a call with newspapers focusing on where advertising money is going by political parties. That’s just not appropriate,” Obama said. “What I can say is that my general approach when it comes to the federal government is there has to be an equal opportunity. You can’t just go with the vendors that traditionally have received contracts or opportunities without taking a look at non-traditional folks who may be able to do just as good of a job or a better job.”

Obama was also asked about his plan for putting more African Americans to work in his home state, considering Illinois has a 22 percent unemployment rate among Blacks. A temporary jobs program created by the Obama administration, “Put Illinois to Work,” has been praised for creating thousands of jobs, but will end next month. It has already been extended by two months.

“The program has been highly successful,” Obama said. “It is relatively low-cost and we want to renew it. We are going to need some cooperation on this issue from some of the Republicans because we may not have the votes. It’s an example of the things that we’ve done that we know work, but unfortunately not a lot of people know about it.”

Obama said the “Put Illinois to Work” initiative is part of a larger nationwide effort. However, in many communities around the country, there are complaints that the jobs created by the programs are not going to inner-city African Americans that really need them. Obama said some of that can be contributed to the implementation of the program that he has no control over.

“We have to manage this through local jurisdictions,” he explained. “What we’ve made sure of is that they don’t discriminate in hiring. “But what is also true is in a lot of cities and counties traditionally you haven’t seen enough low-income citizens trained for construction jobs. What we want to encourage are partnerships to make sure there are stepladders for those who don’t have experience in these jobs to get the skills they need.”

Obama said the same can be said in the energy efficient job genre, in which they are retrofitting homes around the country to make them more energy efficient. He said there has been some difficulty in finding young people who need training and then hire them as apprentices in areas such as window installation and other areas.

“It’s not only a clean energy agenda, but also a job initiative,” Obama said. “Every program we initiate, we try to tie a job-training component to it. But I am the first one to admit some of the Recovery Act funding could have gone to a state that doesn’t have one of these programs already up and running. Their priority could have been just to get the road fixed as quickly as possible so they may have just hired the folks who traditionally they have been using without enough attention to make sure they are opening up new opportunities for more people.”

The President was asked what he is doing to combat the high dropout rate within the Black community. He said his focus has been on identifying low-performing schools and putting nearly $2 billion into those schools to improve retention rates. He said they are starting to see the implementation of proven programs to address the problem and it is something that will be monitored during the coming two years.

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