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Obama Continues Responsibility Theme at NAACP Speech

Black America Web.com, News Report, Michael H. Cottman Posted: Jul 15, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama told thousands of NAACP members Monday that as America's first viable black presidential candidate, he is following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other courageous civil rights activists who were staunch advocates for social justice and equality for African-Americans.

"It is because of them; and all those whose names never made it into the history books -- those men and women, young and old, black, brown and white, clear-eyed and straight-backed, who refused to settle for the world as it is; who had the courage to remake the world as it should be -- it's because of them that I stand before you tonight as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States of America," Obama told a capacity crowd attending the 99th annual convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati.

"And if I have the privilege of serving as your next president, I will stand up for you the same way that earlier generations of Americans stood up for me -- by fighting to ensure that every single one of us has the chance to make it if we try," Obama said. "That means removing the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding that still exist in America. It means fighting to eliminate discrimination from every corner of our country. It means changing hearts and changing minds and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law."

Obama's appearance before the NAACP comes a week after Obama was criticized by Rev. Jesse Jackson for Obama's Father's Day speech, in which he urged black fathers be more responsible. Obama told NAACP members that he will not stop talking about parental responsibility.

Bottom line, Obama said: Black folks must demand more of each other.

"So yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Washington," he said. "And yes, we have to demand more responsibility from Wall Street. But we also have to demand more from ourselves."

"If we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives, our own families and our own communities," the Democratic presidential candidate said. "That starts with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV and putting away the video games; attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework and setting a good example."

Jackson apologized last week after being caught saying on an open microphone that he wanted to castrate Obama for speaking down to blacks.

"I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff," Obama said. "But I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because I believe that in the end, it doesn't matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch -- none of it will make any difference if we don't seize more responsibility in our own lives."

Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP's California conference of branches and a national board member, said black Americans should not take Obama to task for his message of fatherhood and personal responsibility.

"My feeling is that black folks should not have to convince other black folks that we're black," Huffman, who attended Obama's speech in Cincinnati, told BlackAmericaWeb.com Monday. "I supported Hillary, and she didn't have to convince me that she was white."

Huffman, who is from Los Angeles, said Obama will bring black people together around his candidacy.

"Obama meeting with his community is significant," she said. "This will bring together old-time civil rights activists and Obama's youth movement. We will see him as a son who we are proud of."

Commentator Roland Martin said Jackson is in the minority regarding Obama's parenting message and said the media controversy is "insignificant." Martin said when Obama talks about black fathers stepping up, "you're not going to get groans" from the black community; "you're going to get applause."

Roslyn Brock, an NAACP national board member from Baltimore who attended Obama's speech, said Obama has addressed the NAACP for the past three years.

"What's different this year is that Sen. Obama is addressing the NAACP as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for the highest office in the land," Brock told BlackAmericaWeb.com Monday. "There is clearly an excitement in the air about Obama and the prospect of an African-American president of the United States."

Charles Ellison, chief editor for Blackpolicy.org and a political analyst for XM radio, said there's a bit of ironic symbolism taking place with Obama offering comments before the NAACP.

"Obviously, Obama's rapid rise to the top of the American political canon is the direct result of a new black political strategy that appears to contradict the traditional civil rights style of the NAACP," Ellison told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

"Some may expect that to change with Benjamin Jealous at the helm -- however, there is some skepticism considering Jealous will, ultimately, have to answer to the old schoolers like Julian Bond," Ellison said. "Still, Obama understands that he has to, at the very least, pay homage to the legendary organization, and it is a part of a very safe black outreach strategy he is conducting: Continuing to woo his solid African-American base without alienating other voters."

Meanwhile, Obama, standing before a friendly crowd of many Democrats, took a swipe at President Bush.

"If people tell you that we cannot afford to invest in education or health care or fighting poverty, you just remind them that we are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq," Obama said. "And if we can spend that much money in Iraq, we can spend some of that money right here in Cincinnati, Ohio and in big cities and small towns in every corner of this country."

And he also took the opportunity to criticize his opponent Republican Sen. John McCain, who is scheduled to address the convention on Wednesday.

"Now, I understand that Senator McCain is going to be coming here in a couple of days and talking about education, and I'm glad to hear it," Obama said. "But the fact is what he's offering amounts to little more than the same tired rhetoric about vouchers. Well, I believe we need to move beyond the same debate we've been having for the past 30 years when we haven't gotten anything done. We need to fix and improve our public schools, not throw our hands up and walk away from them. We need to uphold the ideal of public education, but we also need reform."

He added: "And that's why I'll end the outrage of one in five African-Americans going without the health care they deserve. We'll guarantee health care for anyone who needs it, make it affordable for anyone who wants it and ensure that the quality of your health care does not depend on the color of your skin. And we're not going to do it 20 years from now or 10 years from now -- we're going to do it by the end of my first term as president of the United States of America."

"I will come back here next year on the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, and I will stand before you as the president of the United States of America," Obama said. "And at that moment, you and I will truly know that a new day has come in this country we love."

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