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Obama Says He's Not 'Distancing Himself' from Black Community

NNPA, News Report, Hazel Trice Edney Posted: Jul 13, 2008

WASHINGTON (NNPA) U. S. Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee and possibly Americas first Black president, denies that he is distancing himself from Black constituents as he seeks to win broader support in the general election.

Ive spent the last year and a half on the campaign talking about problems of poverty and problems of injustice. Thats been what my whole campaign has been built around, Obama said in an exclusive interview with the NNPA News Service. My answer is thats what Ive been doing my whole campaign.

Obama was responding to a question pertaining to his criticism of absent Black fathers in a Fathers Day message at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago.

He said that speech should not send a signal that his general election campaign will focus on the negatives of the Black community in order to win the support of undecided or conservative Whites.

The fact that I made one speech about the very real problems of the fathers not looking after our kids doesnt negate everything that Ive been talking about during the course of this campaign, about people lacking health care about the problems of the unjust criminal justice system. Ive given multiple speeches on these issues and I will continue to, he said.

Some pundits have observed that since the end of the primaries, Obamas campaign appears to be doing less reaching to African-Americans since he is no longer competing with Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In a current column headlined, Obama Distances Himself From Blacks: Is There a Cost? Dr. Ron Walters wrote, It is common knowledge now that Barack Obama has to distance himself from Black radicals, from his church, and much of his community in order to make White voters comfortable enough with him to trust him and then give him their votes. And he will probably show at the NAACP Convention. But the troubling trend which finds him absent from other venues that are the substance of Black life looks like he is taking the Black community for granted because of their thirst for his victory.

Even some members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a 200-member group also known as the ''Black Press of America'' that has given Obama two awards this year, note that he has been absent during both events.

I am disappointed that Sen. Obama is not here. That is a big disappointment for me, said Seattle Medium Publisher Chris H. Bennett, a former NNPA president, as he spoke on a Black Press-Black Church unity panel at the organizations summer convention late last month.

Were the Black Press of America. If you dont come down here and talk to us and ask us for your support, dont take us for granted. Yes, we love you Obama. But, well love you more, Senator, if you bring some of your Obama drama down here and talk to us in our annual convention.
Bennett continued, We dont need a representative. Does that tell us that when he gets in the White House that weve got to go through 10, 12 or 15 other people in order to deal with him? I would think not. We need to deal with what we need to deal with and not be taken for granted.

Moments earlier, Obama representative Candice Tolliver had explained to the group that Obama did not attend because he was campaigning in Pennsylvania on his economic tour. She clarified that Obama still recognizes Black people as his base as well as the base of the Democratic Party.

We are so tremendously thankful and appreciative for everything that you do for us on a daily and weekly basis,'' she said. ''In large part, it is because of the stories that you tell, the editorials that you write, the encouragement that you send to us that keeps us going that keeps our voting base - our core base - informed and engaged in this election. And so, quite frankly we just cant do it without you.

Later that evening, Tolliver received the esteemed NNPA Chairmans Award on behalf of Obama and his wife, Michelle, from NNPA Chairman John B. Smith Sr. In March, NNPA honored Obama as its News Maker of the Year for the second time. That night, Tolliver said he was not able to attend because he was going through a series of Senate votes on Capital Hill.

Still, Walters and Howard University economist Bill Spriggs both contend there is need for more targeted policy pertaining to anti-discrimination in the Black community among other issues that neither Obama nor Republican Sen. John McCain are debating.

In the NNPA interview with Obama, which took place the day before the organizations conference that started June 25, Obama said he recognizes the need for targeted policy to undo the long time affects of race discrimination in employment as well as the criminal justice system.

Weve got a special problem in terms of inner city youth who are deprived of a lot of opportunities, he said.
He said while all youth need early childhood education, better pay and training for teachers and his proposed $4,000 a year tuition credit for college students, there are special needs in urban community which are often predominately Black and Latino.

Weve got a special category of young people who are getting caught up in the drug trade. And weve got programs that deter them from engaging in crimes in the first place. But, also, weve got diversion programs so that theyre not ending up as hardened felons, but instead are in courts, substance abuse treatment programs and if they do end up going to prisons, weve got to make sure that weve got the kinds of second chance programs afterward that can help them to get their lives back on track, he said.

Spriggs, also an advisor to the Obama campaign, said the reason that the unemployment rate for African-Americans is consistently twice that of Whites and the national average is because of race discrimination.
Obama said he would remedy that as president through Justice Department enforcement as well as strategic judicial appointments.

I think its very simple, Obama said. Youve got to make sure that our civil rights laws are enforced. Thats something that [the Bush] administration has not put an emphasis on. We want to make sure that the civil rights division is making sure that everybody is being treated fairly and equally. And we need judges on the bench who are sympathetic to instances of discrimination in the work place. I think the overwhelming majority of Americans support equal treatment. But, weve got to have an enforcement mechanism. Thats something that I will make sure is in place when Im president.

In a turnabout this week, Walters has written a subsequent column praising Obama for a speech he made before the National Conference of Mayors in which he noted that Obama announced plans for a White House Office of Urban Policy.

Black voters who in recent years have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates, have historically monitored what Democratic candidates do after they get in office. In relation to the masses of Black people, the outcomes have often been disappointing. That will not be the case with Obama, says Tolliver.

Understand that while he may not physically be here with you. He is with you. His thoughts are with you, she told NNPA publishers. You all share the same vision, the same commitment.

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