As President-elect Obama pulls together his diverse cabinet, it’s clear his administrative philosophy is expansive enough to include former rivals on his governing team. The president-elect has read, and was inspired by, Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a study of President Lincoln’s political genius over a century ago.
It should become clearer to African-Americans that President Obama needs be the president of all the people. He will not be able to govern as a “black president,” but as a president who is black. There is a profound difference in understanding what can be expected of the president-elect and what will consume his interest. Since our community has never before produced the nation’s chief executive, we must be clear on the benefits, how to use the benefits, and the ongoing challenges.
The greatest benefits would be access to the chief executive, utmost sensitivity to our particular issues and interest, and inspiring community advocacy and activism. Yet even with our cultural affinity with the new first family, we must anticipate that the president will be consumed with the national interest. We will remain only a part of that interest, albeit an important and significant part. The president cannot represent our particular interest alone. His time management and interests must be much broader. The day-to-day world of politics and competing interest will be continuously intense and ongoing.
But we must, to be well served, have community and political representatives exclusively focused on our interests and particular needs. We will need leaders, representatives, activists, and advocates now more than ever. We will need the NAACP, Urban League, PUSH, National Action Network, and Leaders Network just as much now as we ever did.
Since Nov. 4, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been documenting racially motivated retaliations against African-Americans all over the South. On Nov. 5, black and Hispanic youth attended under-funded, under-staffed, and under-resourced public schools all across America. The current deep recession disproportionately affects African-Americans.
Black families and parents will be engaged in cultural and values wars against negative music and demoralizing media influences aimed at their children and youth.
And finally, racism, discrimination, racial profiling, and segregation from opportunity are just as prevalent post-Obama election as before. We cannot allow our euphoria over the historic national victory to lessen our vigilance. The struggle continues. If we are to get maximum benefit for our community from an Obama presidency, our community must remain aggressively active.
If we truly “understand the times and what we should do,” then we cannot wait for the Jan. 20, 2009 inauguration in order to act. There is a call among black leaders and organizations to hold a summit before the inauguration to define concise and clear interests, and determine exactly what our communities’ need and expect for our investment in Democratic victories at the national and local levels.
Assisting foreclosed mortgagers, investing in education, urban policy, and launching an active Department of Justice are good starting points for the dialogue. Between the Congressional Black Caucus, our national rights organizations, and community activists, a summit is in order to give direction for a national agenda.
In the spirit of Issachar’s sons, it is time to move with the fierce urgency of now. As I get information on the summit, I’ll be sure to share.