What can Black communities expect from him over the next four years?
By Charles Hallman
History repeated itself Tuesday as Barack Obama won reelection as U.S. president, making him only the first Black man to twice win the presidency in this country’s history.
“It has been a fairly harsh campaign,” noted local Republican activist Carleton Crawford, who added that both President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney “have done a particularly good job of presenting their side, primarily based on issues. I think the [three] debates have been substantive… They [gave] people a chance to actually analyze…the perspective and the intention of the candidates.”
Crawford says that President Obama “is going to have a decent mandate” from the American electorate. Throughout his first term, the president was oft-criticized that he didn’t speak out or didn’t put specific issues affecting the Black community on the front burner. Now that he has won reelection, will President Obama be more responsive to the Black community in his second and final term?
St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds told the MSR that she hopes so. The high jobless rate for Blacks, which is twice as high as the general unemployment rate, “is especially a problem in Minnesota,” she says, adding that Black unemployment has dropped only four percent, from 22 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2011.
“I know that there is a national focus on job creation, but we need a specific focus on job creation for African Americans in particular,” continues Levy-Pounds. “We know that the huge gaps in unemployment will continue to produce negative effects on the African American community. We definitely need a job creation strategy” for Blacks, she proposes, adding that the Obama administration must devise a strategy or strategies “that specifically hone in on the unique challenges facing the African American community.”
A second issue she wants the president to focus on in his second term is “closing the opportunity gap in education.” Levy-Pounds says she was very encouraged when President Obama signed an executive order this past July to advance educational outcomes for Black students.
“The goal is to ensure equal opportunities for Black students from cradle to career,” she explains. “My hope is that…executive order being signed by President Obama….will open the door for some specific strategies that comes from the highest level of our government as well as the resources to boot, in order to help close the gap that African Americans face before they come into school to the time where they are actually considering careers.
“I hope that President Obama will be more pro-active in mobilizing [Black] community members and leaders to be engaged in this issue,” says Levy-Pounds.
Education got “significant support” from President Obama during his first term, adds Seed Academy President/CEO Eric Mahmoud. “I see a continuation on his policy on education as a big focus. I believe that he will get a lot of things done [in his second term] because he is not going to be thinking about getting reelected… I suspect that he is going to make a tremendous difference.”
Criminal justice issues since “African Americans being significantly over-represented in our criminal justice system in Minnesota, and across this nation” is the third item that Levy-Pounds strongly wants the president to put high on his to-do list in his second term.
“We need to get smart on crime instead of continuing to get tough on crime,” notes the law professor. “Getting tough on crime has not been effective: Nationally we spend billions of dollars on criminal justice policies. We spend $432 million dollars [per year] in Minnesota on our criminal justice system, and we are not seeing a wise return on our investment.
“As long as we continue to have Black males in particular — and now we have growing numbers of Black women and children — cycling in and out of the system, then at a point it is going to have an impact on educational policies [or] on job creation strategies, especially if people aren’t able to get their education because of [their] involvement in the criminal justice system, and they aren’t able to be hired for a job because of discrimination related to them having a criminal record,” says Levy-Pounds. “I really would like to see a strategic focus on smart criminal-justice policies because this is a major issue that affect the Black community.”
She believes that President Obama will be bolder in addressing those issues that uniquely affect Blacks than Romney would be if he had won Tuesday.
“When I read his speech regarding ‘the 47 percent of Americans who automatically vote for President Obama,’ I was concerned that in his mind…a hefty number of African Americans are considered to be within that 47 percent,” says Levy-Pounds on the GOP candidate. “One, he is out of touch with our issues. Number two, it is clear that he does not know what it’s like to grow up in poverty, or grow up with a single mom or have to deal with a lot of these challenges that a disapportionate number of African Americans do face.”
Romney’s “out of touch” reality would have had an adverse effect on Black Americans because he “shows a lack of depth and a lack of understanding regarding our issues,” surmises Levy-Pounds.
Mahmoud said he was afraid that if elected Romney “would not spend the type of money and provide the type of support” on such issues as he believe the reelected president will.
With President Obama now remaining in the White House, Levy-Pounds says the Black community must be more demanding of the president in his second term. “We actually have to be pro-active about engaging President Obama and the White House and continuing to put our issues on the front burner,” she says.
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