Obama receives new agenda for jobs, freedom

Freddie Allen | 3/3/2014, 10:02 a.m.
A group of civil rights leaders met with President Obama and several members of his cabinet last week to discuss ...
National Urban League President Marc Morial announces civil rights agenda during the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Aug. 23, 2013. From left to right: Al Sharpton, Melanie Campbell, Morial and Ben Jealous. Mikal Veale of the Final Call

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,” Sharpton said.

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 health care 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,” Campbell said. “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 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,” Morial said.