Published August 21, 2011
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts – Thursday night the Harvard University Department of African American Studies held an extraordinarily interesting event here with a wide diversity of speakers about the education gap between African-Americans and the broader white society.
The question presented was "How can the persistent gap between whites and African-Americans be closed?" And the speakers, who represented a wide diversity of points of view, argued compellingly for an emphasis on three basic initiatives:
First, one that would eliminate poverty.
Second, one that would work to strengthen family values and family structure.
And third, one to insist and ensure that there are standards in the schools, meaning that children perform to expectations and to grade level, and are equipped upon completion with the tools necessary to compete.
Echoing these sentiments are the views that have been expressed by Professor Cornel West of Princeton and talk show host Tavis Smiley, who just completed a 14 day, 7 city "Poverty Tour," suggesting that President Obama has failed to focus significantly on the problems of African-Americans during the first two and a half years of his presidency.
And further, the Congressional Black Caucus and Maxine Waters have also argued compellingly that any focus that the president places on joblessness of necessity must include not only white middle class voters in the Midwest, but also African-Americans as well.
And while there are clear differences in approach and attitude between each of these three important strands of elite opinion, nonetheless the conclusion is clear: The administration and the president must emphasize, in the already highly anticipated September jobs speech, that we need a jobs program and a jobs plan for all Americans that explicitly and clearly recognizes the special needs of poor people-- particularly Blacks and Hispanics.
With the African-American unemployment rate over 15% and that for African-Americans under the age of 25 closer to 30%, we are facing nothing short of a national crisis.
It simply is essential that the president acknowledge that, as a society, it is unacceptable for us to not recognize that when large numbers of Americans, with minorities living in inner-cities, have no hope, no opportunity, no chance to get ahead and no way to better themselves, that this is a national crisis of unfathomable proportion.
This is not an issue of liberals vs. conservatives or Democrats vs. Republicans-- quite the contrary. It is an American challenge. And it is an urgent challenge facing all of us. As a society, we must recognize that unless all Americans have a chance to get trained for jobs, have opportunities to be hired and to get access to the full range of opportunities that our society offers, we are simply failing.
It is undeniable that the president has failed to focus on the needs of African-Americans and Hispanics in his first term, save some much needed focus on reforming immigration laws. -- And I say this as somebody who believes we need a multiplicity of different solutions-- ranging from those advocated by the right to those advocated by the left-- to create employment opportunities for the poorest members of our society.
And indeed, in advocating such policies I don't mean that an African-American or Hispanic initiative needs to be separate from one for poor whites or poor immigrants from other nations or nationalities-- quite the contrary.
Rather, we need a program of national renewal, national revitalization and national commitment to employment, involving tax incentives for hiring, tax incentives for training and a national commitment to skills development that goes beyond anything we have offered to date.
President Obama is in a unique position to address these issues in September as part of the larger agenda.
And what I learned in the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown this week, what Tavis Smiley and Cornel West have said so compellingly and what the Congressional Black Caucus has made so very clear, all suggest that the president, for reasons of substance, politics and policy, must focus on the needs of our poorest and most endangered and embattled citizens as he develops a jobs program to try to revitalize the American economy.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.