Full Text Obama Presidency September 20, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner

Source: WH, 9-20-15

Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

9:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, CBC!  (Applause.)  I guess I get the fancier lectern here.  Everybody please have a seat.  Have a seat.  I know it’s late.  You’re ready for the after parties.  I should have ditched the speech and brought my playlist.  (Laughter.)  Everybody looks beautiful, handsome, wonderful.  Thank you, Don, for that introduction.  Thank you to the CBC Foundation.  And thank you to the members of the CBC.  (Applause.)

On the challenges of our times, from giving workers a raise to getting families health coverage; on the threats of our time, from climate change to nuclear proliferation — members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward.  With your help, our businesses have created over 13 million new jobs.  (Applause.)  With your help, we’ve covered more than 16 million Americans with health insurance — many for the first time.  (Applause.)  Three years ago, Republicans said they’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent by 2017.  It’s down to 5.1 right now.  (Applause.)  You didn’t hear much about that at the debate on Monday — on Wednesday night.

The point is, though, none of this progress would have been possible without the CBC taking tough votes when it mattered most.  Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there.  (Applause.)  I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate, and I’m proud to be your partner today.  But we’re not here just to celebrate — we’re here to keep going.  Because with the unemployment rate for African Americans still more than double than whites, with millions of families still working hard and still waiting to feel the recovery in their own lives, we know that the promise of this nation — where every single American, regardless of the circumstances in which they were born, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, has the chance to succeed — that promise is not yet fulfilled.

The good thing about America — the great project of America is that perfecting our union is never finished.  We’ve always got more work to do.  And tonight’s honorees remind us of that.  They remind us of the courage and sacrifices, the work that they’ve done — and not just at the national level, but in local communities all across the country.  We couldn’t be prouder of them.  The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement whom we lost last month remind us of the work that remains to be done.  American heroes like Louis Stokes, and Julian Bond, and Amelia Boynton Robinson.  (Applause.)

Ms. Robinson — as some of you know, earlier this year, my family and I joined many in Selma for the 50th anniversary of that march.  And as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I held Ms. Amelia’s hand.  And I thought about her and all the extraordinary women like her who were really the life force of the movement.  (Applause.)  Women were the foot soldiers.  Women strategized boycotts.  Women organized marches.  Even if they weren’t allowed to run the civil rights organizations on paper, behind the scenes they were the thinkers and the doers making things happen each and every day — (applause) — doing the work that nobody else wanted to do.  They couldn’t prophesize from the pulpits, but they led the charge from the pews.  They were no strangers to violence.  They were on the front lines.  So often they were subject to abuse, dehumanized, but kept on going, holding families together.  Mothers were beaten and gassed on Bloody Sunday.  Four little girls were murdered in a Birmingham church.  Women made the movement happen.

Of course, black women have been a part of every great movement in American history — (applause) — even if they weren’t always given a voice.  They helped plan the March on Washington, but were almost entirely absent from the program.  And when pressed, male organizers added a tribute highlighting six women — none of them who were asked to make a speech.  Daisy Bates introduced her fellow honorees in just 142 words, written by a man.  Of course, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson sang.  But in a three-hour program, the men gave women just 142 words.  That may sound familiar to some of the women in the room here tonight.  The organizers even insisted on two separate parades — male leaders marching along the main route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and leaders like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks relegated to Independence Avenue.  America’s most important march against segregation had its own version of separation.

Black women were central in the fight for women’s rights, from suffrage to the feminist movement — (applause) — and yet despite their leadership, too often they were also marginalized.  But they didn’t give up, they didn’t let up.  They were too fierce for that.  Black women have always understood the words of Pauli Murray — that “Hope is a song in a weary throat.”

It’s thanks to black women that we’ve come a long way since the days when a girl like Ruby Bridges couldn’t go to school.  When a woman like Amelia couldn’t cast her vote.  When we didn’t have a Congressional Black Caucus — and its 20 women members.  (Applause.)

So I’m focusing on women tonight because I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them.  (Applause.)  And I want to talk about what more we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our black women and girls in America today.  (Applause.)

Because all of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong black women who helped carry this country forward.  Their work to expand civil rights opened the doors of opportunity, not just for African Americans but for all women, for all of us — black and white, Latino and Asian, LGBT and straight, for our First Americans and our newest Americans.  And their contributions in every field — as scientists and entrepreneurs, educators, explorers — all made us stronger.  Of course, they’re also a majority of my household.  (Laughter and applause.)  So I care deeply about how they’re doing.

The good news is, despite structural barriers of race and gender, women and girls of color have made real progress in recent years.  The number of black women-owned businesses has skyrocketed.  (Applause.)  Black women have ascended the ranks of every industry.  Teen pregnancy rates among girls of color are down, while high school and four-year college graduation rates are up.  (Applause.)  That’s good news.

But there’s no denying that black women and girls still face real and persistent challenges.  The unemployment rate is over 8 percent for black women.  And they’re overrepresented in low-paying jobs; underrepresented in management.  They often lack access to economic necessities like paid leave and quality, affordable child care.  They often don’t get the same quality health care that they need, and have higher rates of certain chronic diseases — although that’s starting to change with Obamacare.  (Applause.)  It’s working, by the way, people.  Just in case — (laughter) — just in case you needed to know.

And then there are some of the challenges that are harder to see and harder to talk about — although Michelle, our outstanding, beautiful First Lady talks about these struggles.  (Applause.)  Michelle will tell stories about when she was younger, people telling her she shouldn’t aspire to go to the very best universities.  And she found herself thinking sometimes, “Well, maybe they’re right.”  Even after she earned two degrees from some of the best universities in America, she still faced the doubts that were rooted in deep social prejudice and stereotypes, worrying whether she was being too assertive, or too angry, or too tall.  (Applause.)  I like tall women.  (Laughter and applause.)

And those stereotypes and social pressures, they still affect our girls.  So we all have to be louder than the voices that are telling our girls they’re not good enough — (applause) — that they’ve got to look a certain way, or they’ve got to act a certain way, or set their goals at a certain level.  We’ve got to affirm their sense of self-worth, and make them feel visible and beautiful, and understood and loved.  (Applause.)  And I say this as a father who strives to do this at home, but I also say this as a citizen.  This is not just about my family or yours; it’s about who we are as a people, who we want to be, and how we can make sure that America is fulfilling its promise — because everybody is getting a chance, and everybody is told they’re important, and everybody is given opportunity.  And we got to do more than just say we care, or say we put a woman on ten-dollar bill, although that’s a good idea.  We’ve got to make sure they’re getting some ten-dollar bills; that they’re getting paid properly.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to let our actions do the talking.

It is an affront to the very idea of America when certain segments of our population don’t have access to the same opportunities as everybody else.  It makes a mockery of our economy when black women make 30 fewer cents for every dollar a white man earns.  (Applause.)  That adds up to thousands of dollars in missed income that determines whether a family can pay for a home, or pay for college for their kids, or save for retirement, or give their kids a better life.  And that’s not just a woman’s issue, that’s everybody’s issue.  I want Michelle getting paid at some point.  (Laughter and applause.)  We’ve got an outstanding former Secretary of State here who is also former First Lady, and I know she can relate to Michelle when she says, how come you get paid and I don’t?  (Laughter and applause.)  How did that work?  (Laughter.)

When women of color aren’t given the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential, we all lose out on their talents; we’re not as good a country as we can be.  We might miss out on the next Mae Jemison or Ursula Burns or Serena Williams or Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)  We want everybody to be on the field.  We can’t afford to leave some folks off the field.

So we’re going to have to close those economic gaps so that hardworking women of all races, and black women in particular can support families, and strengthen communities, and contribute to our country’s success.  So that’s why my administration is investing in job training and apprenticeships, to help everybody, but particularly help more women earn better-paying jobs, and particularly in non-traditional careers.  It’s why we’re investing in getting more girls, and particularly girls of color interested in STEM fields — math and science and engineering — (applause) — and help more of them stay on track in school.

It’s why we’re going to continue to fight to eliminate the pay gap.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  It’s an all-American idea.  It’s very simple.  And that’s why we’re going to keep working to raise the minimum wage — because women disproportionately are the ones who are not getting paid what they’re worth.  That’s why we’re fighting to expand tax credits that help working parents make ends meet, closing tax loopholes for folks who don’t need tax loopholes to pay for.  It’s why we’re expanding paid leave to employees of federal contractors.  And that’s why Congress needs to expand paid leave for more hardworking Americans.  It’s good for our economy.  It’s the right thing to do.  No family should have to choose between taking care of a sick child or losing their job.  (Applause.)

And just as an aside, what’s not the right thing to do, what makes no sense at all, is Congress threatening to shut down the entire federal government if they can’t shut down women’s access to Planned Parenthood.  (Applause.)  That’s not a good idea.  Congress should be working on investing things that grow our economy and expand opportunity, and not get distracted and inflict the kind of self-inflicted wounds that we’ve seen before on our economy.  So that’s some of the things we need to do to help improve the economic standing of all women; to help all families feel more secure in a changing economy.

And before I go tonight, I also want to say something about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, another profound barrier to opportunity in too many communities — and that is our criminal justice system.  (Applause.)

I spoke about this at length earlier this year at the NAACP, and I explained the long history of inequity in our criminal justice system.  We all know the statistics.  And this summer, because I wanted to highlight that there were human beings behind these statistics, I visited a prison in Oklahoma — the first President to ever visit a federal prison.  (Applause.)  And I sat down with the inmates, and I listened to their stories.  And one of the things that struck me was the crushing burden their incarceration has placed not just on their prospects for the future, but also for their families, the women in their lives, children being raised without a father in the home; the crushing regret these men felt over the children that they left behind.

Mass incarceration rips apart families.  It hollows out neighborhoods.  It perpetuates poverty.  We understand that in many of our communities, they’re under-policed.  The problem is not that we don’t want active, effective police work.  We want, and admire, and appreciate law enforcement.  We want them in our communities.  Crime hurts the African American community more than anybody.  But we want to make sure that it’s done well and it’s done right, and it’s done fairly and it’s done smart.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, in the coming months, I’m going to be working with many in Congress and many in the CBC to try to make progress on reform legislation that addresses unjust sentencing laws, and encourages diversion and prevention programs, catches our young people early and tries to put them on a better path, and then helps ex-offenders, after they’ve done their time, get on the right track.  It’s the right thing to do for America.  (Applause.)

And although in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African American men and the work we’re doing with My Brother’s Keeper, we can’t forget the impact that the system has on women, as well.  The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women.  Many women in prison, you come to discover, have been victims of homelessness and domestic violence, and in some cases human trafficking.  They’ve got high rates of mental illness and substance abuse.  And many have been sexually assaulted, both before they got to prison and then after they go to prison.  And we don’t often talk about how society treats black women and girls before they end up in prison.  They’re suspended at higher rates than white boys and all other girls.  And while boys face the school-to-prison pipeline, a lot of girls are facing a more sinister sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.  (Applause.)  Victims of early sexual abuse are more likely to fail in school, which can lead to sexual exploitation, which can lead to prison.  So we’re focusing on boys, but we’re also investing in ways to change the odds for at-risk girls — to make sure that they are loved and valued, to give them a chance.

And that’s why we have to make a collective effort to address violence and abuse against women in all of our communities.  In every community, on every campus, we’ve got to be very clear:  Women who have been victims of rape or domestic abuse, who need help, should know that they can count on society and on law enforcement to treat them with love and care and sensitivity, and not skepticism.  (Applause.)

I want to repeat — because somehow this never shows up on Fox News.  (Laughter.)  I want to repeat — because I’ve said it a lot, unwaveringly, all the time:  Our law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job.  They put their lives on the line for our safety.  (Applause.)  We appreciate them and we love them.  That’s why my Task Force on 21st Century Policing made a set of recommendations that I want to see implemented to improve their safety, as well as to make sure that our criminal justice system is being applied fairly.  Officers show uncommon bravery in our communities every single day.  They deserve our respect.  That includes women in law enforcement.  We need more of you, by the way.  We’ve got an outstanding chief law enforcement officer in our Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.  (Applause.)  We want all our young ladies to see what a great role model she is.

So I just want to repeat, because somehow this never gets on the TV:  There is no contradiction between us caring about our law enforcement officers and also making sure that our laws are applied fairly.  Do not make this as an either/or proposition.  This is a both/and proposition.  (Applause.)  We want to protect our police officers.  We’ll do a better job doing it if our communities can feel confident that they are being treated fairly.  I hope I’m making that clear.  (Applause.)  I hope I’m making that clear.

We need to make sure the laws are applied evenly.  This is not a new problem.  It’s just that in recent months, in recent years, suddenly folks have videos and body cameras, and social media, and so it’s opened our eyes to these incidents.  And many of these incidents are subject to ongoing investigation, so I can’t comment on every specific one.  But we can’t avoid these tough conversations altogether.  That’s not going to help our police officers, the vast majority who do the right thing every day, by just pretending that these things aren’t happening.  That’s not going to help build trust between them and the communities in which they serve.

So these are hard issues, but I’m confident we’re going to move forward together for a system that is fairer and more just.  We’ve got good people on both sides of the aisle that are working with law enforcement and local communities to find a better way forward.  And as always, change will not happen overnight.  It won’t be easy.  But if our history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that when we come together, when we’re working with a sense of purpose, when we are listening to one another, when we assume the best in each other rather than the worst, then change happens.

Like every parent, I can’t help to see the world increasingly through my daughters’ eyes.  And on that day, when we were celebrating that incredible march in Selma, I had Ms. Amelia’s hand in one of my hands, but Michelle had Sasha’s hand, and my mother-in-law had Malia’s hand — and it was a chain across generations.  And I thought about all those women who came before us, who risked everything for life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so often without notice, so often without fanfare.  Their names never made the history books.  All those women who cleaned somebody else’s house, or looked after somebody else’s children, did somebody else’s laundry, and then got home and did it again, and then went to church and cooked — and then they were marching.  (Applause.)

And because of them, Michelle could cross that bridge.  And because of them, they brought them along, and Malia and Sasha can cross that bridge.  And that tells me that if we follow their example, we’re going to cross more bridges in the future.  If we keep moving forward, hand in hand, God willing, my daughters’ children will be able to cross that bridge in an America that’s more free, and more just, and more prosperous than the one that we inherited.  Your children will, too.

Thank you CBC.  God bless you.  God bless this country we love.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

END
10:06 P.M. EDT

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Full Text Obama Presidency September 27, 2014: President Obama’s Speech at Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner

Source: WH, 9-27-14

Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Washington, D.C.

9:06 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, CBC!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, have a seat.  It is good to be with you here tonight.  If it wasn’t black tie I would have worn my tan suit.  (Laughter.)  I thought it looked good.  (Laughter.)

Thank you, Chaka, for that introduction.  Thanks to all of you for having me here this evening. I want to acknowledge the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Chairwoman Marcia Fudge for their outstanding work.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Shuanise Washington, and the CBC Foundation for doing so much to help our young people aim high and reach their potential.

Tonight, I want to begin by paying special tribute to a man with whom all of you have worked closely with; someone who served his country for nearly 40 years as a prosecutor, as a judge, and as Attorney General of the United States:  Mr. Eric Holder.  (Applause.)  Throughout his long career in public service, Eric has built a powerful legacy of making sure that equal justice under the law actually means something; that it applies to everybody — regardless of race, or gender, or religion, or color, creed, disability, sexual orientation.  He has been a great friend of mine.  He has been a faithful servant of the American people.  We will miss him badly.  (Applause.)

This year, we’ve been marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  We honor giants like John Lewis — (applause); unsung heroines like Evelyn Lowery.  We honor the countless Americans, some who are in this room — black, white, students, scholars, preachers, housekeepers, patriots all, who, with their bare hands, reached into the well of our nation’s founding ideals and helped to nurture a more perfect union.  We’ve reminded ourselves that progress is not just absorbing what has been done — it’s advancing what’s left undone.

Even before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, even as the debate dragged on in the Senate, he was already challenging America to do more and march further, to build a Great Society — one, Johnson said, “where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.  Where no man who wants work will fail to find it.  Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his color or his church.  Where peace and security is common among neighbors and possible among nations.”  “This is the world that waits for you,” he said.  “Reach out for it now.  Join the fight to finish the unfinished work.”  To finish the unfinished work.

America has made stunning progress since that time, over the past 50 years — even over the past five years.  But it is the unfinished work that drives us forward.

Some of our unfinished work lies beyond our borders.  America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression in Ukraine.  America is leading the fight to contain and combat Ebola in Africa.  America is building and leading the coalition that will degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.  As Americans, we are leading, and we don’t shy away from these responsibilities; we welcome them.  (Applause.)  That’s what America does.  And we are grateful to the men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way in service of the country that we all love.  (Applause.)

So we’ve got unfinished work overseas, but we’ve got some unfinished work right here at home.  (Applause.)  After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created 10 million new jobs over the last 54 months.  This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in our history.  (Applause.)  In our history.  But we understand our work is not done until we get the kind of job creation that means everybody who wants work can a find job.

We’ve done some work on health care, too.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen a 26 percent decline in the uninsured rate in America.  (Applause.)  African Americans have seen a 30 percent decline.  And, by the way, the cost of health care isn’t going up as fast anymore either.  Everybody was predicting this was all going to be so expensive.  We’ve saved $800 billion — (applause) — in Medicare because of the work that we’ve done — slowing the cost, improving quality, and improving access.  Despite unyielding opposition, this change has happened just in the last couple years.

But we know our work is not yet done until we get into more communities, help more uninsured folks get covered, especially in those states where the governors aren’t being quite as cooperative as we’d like them to be.  (Applause.)  You know who you are.  It always puzzles me when you decide to take a stand to make sure poor folks in your state can’t get health insurance even though it doesn’t cost you a dime.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I won’t go on on that topic.  (Applause.)  We’ve got more work to do.

It’s easy to take a stand when you’ve got health insurance.  (Laughter and applause.)  I’m going off script now, but — (laughter) — that’s what happens at the CBC.

Our high school graduation rate is at a record high, the dropout rate is falling, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  Last year, the number of children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million — the largest decline since 1966.  (Applause.)  Since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate has gone down by about 10 percent.  That’s the first time they’ve declined at the same time in more than 40 years.  Fewer folks in jail.  Crime still going down.  (Applause.)

But our work is not done when too many children live in crumbling neighborhoods, cycling through substandard schools, traumatized by daily violence.  Our work is not done when working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar; when African-American unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment; when income inequality, on the rise for decades, continues to hold back hardworking communities, especially communities of color.  We’ve got unfinished work.  And we know what to do.  That’s the worst part — we know what to do.

We know we’ve got to invest in infrastructure, and manufacturing, and research and development that creates new jobs.  We’ve got to keep rebuilding a middle class economy with ladders of opportunity, so that hard work pays off and you see higher wages and higher incomes, and fair pay for women doing the same work as men, and workplace flexibility for parents in case a child gets sick or a parent needs some help.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to build more Promise Zones partnerships to support local revitalization of hard-hit communities.  We’ve got to keep investing in early education.  We want to bring preschool to every four-year-old in this country.  (Applause.)  And we want every child to have an excellent teacher.  And we want to invest in our community colleges and expand Pell Grants for more students.  And I’m going to keep working with you to make college more affordable.  Because every child in America, no matter who she is, no matter where she’s born, no matter how much money her parents have, ought to be able to fulfill her God-given potential.  That’s what we believe.  (Applause.)

So I just want everybody to understand — we have made enormous progress.  There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office.  (Applause.)  Unemployment down.  Deficits down.  Uninsured down.  Poverty down.  Energy production up.  Manufacturing back.  Auto industry back.  But — and I just list these things just so if you have a discussion with one of your friends — (laughter) — and they’re confused.  Stock market up.  Corporate balance sheet strong.  In fact, the folks who are doing the best, they’re the ones who complain the most.  (Laughter and applause.)  So you can just point these things out.

But we still have to close these opportunity gaps.  And we have to close the justice gap — how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced.  (Applause.)  Eric Holder understands this.  (Applause.)  That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided.  We know that the unrest continues.   And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.

Now, I won’t comment on the investigation.  I know that Michael’s family is here tonight.  (Applause.)  I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon.  But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.

Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.  We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities.  That’s just the statistics.  One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally.  Think about that.  That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair.  That’s most Americans.

And that has a corrosive effect — not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America.  It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most.  It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them.  And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children.  It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them.  It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion.  That is not the society we want.  It’s not the society that our children deserve.  (Applause.)  Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.

It was interesting — Ferguson was used by some of America’s enemies and critics to deflect attention from their shortcomings overseas; to undermine our efforts to promote justice around the world.  They said, well, look at what’s happened to you back home.

But as I said this week at the United Nations, America is special not because we’re perfect; America is special because we work to address our problems, to make our union more perfect.  We fight for more justice.  (Applause.)  We fight to cure what ails us.  We fight for our ideals, and we’re willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.  And we address our differences in the open space of democracy — with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief that people who love their country can change it.  That’s what makes us special — not because we don’t have problems, but because we work to fix them.  And we will continue to work to fix this.

And to that end, we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track.  And under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has launched a national effort to do just that.  He’s also been working to make the criminal justice system smarter and more effective by addressing unfair sentencing disparities, changing department policies on charging mandatory minimums, promoting stronger reentry programs for those who have paid their debt to society.  (Applause.)

And we need to address the unique challenges that make it hard for some of our young people to thrive.  For all the success stories that exist in a room like this one, we all know relatives, classmates, neighbors who were just as smart as we were, just as capable as we were, born with the same light behind their eyes, the same joy, the same curiosity about the world — but somehow they didn’t get the support they needed, or the encouragement they needed, or they made a mistake, or they missed an opportunity; they weren’t able to overcome the obstacles that they faced.

And so, in February, we launched My Brother’s Keeper.  (Applause.)  And I was the first one to acknowledge government can’t play the only, or even the primary, role in the lives of our children.  But what we can do is bring folks together, and that’s what we’re doing — philanthropies, business leaders, entrepreneurs, faith leaders, mayors, educators, athletes, and the youth themselves — to examine how can we ensure that our young men have the tools they need to achieve their full potential.

And next week, I’m launching My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, asking every community in the country — big cities and small towns, rural counties, tribal nations — to publicly commit to implementing strategies that will ensure all young people can succeed, starting from the cradle, all the way to college and a career.  It’s a challenge to local leaders to follow the evidence and use the resources on what works for our kids.  And we’ve already got 100 mayors, county officials, tribal leaders, Democrats, Republicans signed on.  And we’re going to keep on signing them up in the coming weeks and months.  (Applause.)  But they’re going to need you — elected leaders, business leaders, community leaders — to make this effort successful.  We need all of us to come together to help all of our young people address the variety of challenges they face.

And we’re not forgetting about the girls, by the way.  I got two daughters — I don’t know if you noticed.  (Laughter.)  African American girls are more likely than their white peers also to be suspended, incarcerated, physically harassed.  Black women struggle every day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they’re supposed to look and how they’re supposed to act.  Too often, they’re either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility.

So in addition to the new efforts on My Brother’s Keeper, the White House Council for Women and Girls has for years been working on issues affecting women and girls of color, from violence against women, to pay equity, to access to health care.  And you know Michelle has been working on that.  (Applause.)  Because she doesn’t think our daughters should be treated differently than anybody else’s son.  I’ve got a vested interest in making sure that our daughters have the same opportunities as boys do.  (Applause.)

So that’s the world we’ve got to reach for — the world where every single one of our children has the opportunity to pursue their measure of happiness.  That’s our unfinished work.  And we’re going to have to fight for it.  We’ve got to stand up for it.  And we have to vote for it.  We have to vote for it.  (Applause.)

All around the country, wherever I see folks, they always say, oh, Barack, we’re praying for you — boy, you’re so great; look, you got all gray hair, you looking tired.  (Laughter.)  We’re praying for you.  Which I appreciate.  (Laughter.)  But I tell them, after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he immediately moved on to what he called “the meat in the coconut” — a voting rights act bill.  And some of his administration argued that’s too much, it’s too soon.  But the movement knew that if we rested after the Civil Rights Act, then all we could do was pray that somebody would enforce those rights.   (Applause.)

So whenever I hear somebody say they’re praying for me, I say “thank you.”  Thank you — I believe in the power of prayer.  But we know more than prayer.  We need to vote.  (Applause.)  We need to vote.  That will be helpful.  It will not relieve me of my gray hair, but it will help me pass some bills.  (Laughter.)

Because people refused to give in when it was hard, we get to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act next year.  Until then, we’ve got to protect it.  We can’t just celebrate it; we’ve got to protect it.  Because there are people still trying to pass voter ID laws to make it harder for folks to vote.  And we’ve got to get back to our schools and our offices and our churches, our beauty shops, barber shops, and make sure folks know there’s an election coming up, they need to know how to register, and they need to know how and when to vote.

We’ve got to tell them to push back against the cynics; prove everybody wrong who says that change isn’t possible.  Cynicism does not fix anything.  Cynicism is very popular in America sometimes.  It’s propagated in the media.  But cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon.  Cynicism didn’t pass the Voting Rights Act.  Hope is what packed buses full of freedom riders. Hope is what led thousands of black folks and white folks to march from Selma to Montgomery.  Hope is what got John Lewis off his back after being beaten within an inch of his life, and chose to keep on going.  (Applause.)

Cynicism is a choice, but hope is a better choice.  And our job right now is to convince the people who are privileged to represent to join us in finishing that fight that folks like John started.  Get those souls to the polls.  Exercise their right to vote.  And if we do, then I guarantee you we’ve got a brighter future ahead.

Thank you, God bless you.  Keep praying.  But go out there and vote.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

                        END                9:29 P.M. EDT

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