By: April Ryan, aprildryan.com
2013 was a very newsy year in and around the White House and here are some of my top stories.
January brought the second Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. The 57th Presidential Inauguration occurred January 21, 2013, on the national observance the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. President Obama placed his hands on two Bibles once owned by late President Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Immediately following the Oath of Office, President Obama delivered an address that highlighted policy themes for 2013, such as: Immigration Reform, Voting Rights, and Equal Pay for Women. Once the ceremony was over, President Obama, understanding the magnitude of the event and the crowds that gathered, stood inside the dark shadows of a Hill tunnel and took one last look at the massive audience in the bitter cold who came to watch. President Obama wanted that moment and picture seared in his memory as he stood back looking at the crowd saying,” I want to take a look one more time. I won’t see this again.”
Much of America celebrated the Inauguration, which included 15-year-old majorette Hadiya Pendelton, a Chicago teen who marched in the parade in front of the White House Presidential review stand. She was fatally shot days later in Chicago. Pendelton’s untimely and tragic death made its way to the White House and the ears of President Obama and the First Lady.
First Lady Michelle Obama ultimately traveled back home to speak at the teen’s funeral. Pendelton was shot in a South Side Chicago park while sheltering from the rain. Police believe she was not the intended target.
SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINATION
In January of 2013 there was also a changing of the guard. Senator John Kerry’s confirmation hearing began for his nomination as Secretary of State, replacing outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Kerry was the Obama Administration’s second choice for the post as UN Ambassador. Susan Rice, never nominated, but heavily speculated as the nominee for the post, worked the halls of Congress for support for the potential nomination.
She did not get the nods on the Hill she needed for the White House to feel confident she could win the confirmation. Much of Republican angst centered around her statements on the cause of the deadly Benghazi attack. The President moved on with nominating a ‘confirmable’ John Kerry. Later in the year, Rice was moved from the United Nations and appointed National Security Advisor, a position that did not require confirmation.
Mid February, President Obama delivered a State of the Union Address from the well of the House on Capitol Hill. He set the tone at the beginning of the speech declaring, “together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of our Union is stronger.”
A large focus on expanding the middle class through Ladders of Opportunity, raising the minimum wage, and issues of Voting Rights dominated much of the annual speech.
President Obama punctuated his statements on Voting Rights by having 102 year-old Desiline Victor in the First Lady’s box. Victor stood in line for hours trying to vote in the Presidential election in Florida. The President announced she was ultimately able to vote and received a standing ovation.
But Americans were waiting to see what the President had to say about gun violence, with Hadiya Pendelton’s parents sitting in the First Lady’s box watching the speech. This speech was meant to strengthen Obama’s campaign for stiffer gun laws as the nation’s memory was fresh from the Newtown school tragedy and now the public outrage over the Pendelton shooting.
Immigration was also a hot button issue that was part of the State of the Union and did not pass in 2013. That as many races came together in support of changing the law. Democrats nor Republicans could work out a deal. There are promises of a strong push from the White House for 2014 that continues to band Hispanic, Asian, and black groups on the issue.
Meanwhile, The Center for American Progress says immigration is not just a Hispanic issue and gives new stats. Black immigrants are a significant group in the United States—more than 3 million people comprising 8 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population. More than half come from the Caribbean, with the rest mostly coming from Northern and sub-Saharan Africa. A small number also come from Europe and Canada. Black immigrants account for more than one-quarter of the black population in New York, Boston, and Miami.
The Center also finds, black immigrants arrive in the United States through multiple pathways. Most black immigrants—especially those from the Caribbean—arrive as legal permanent residents based on their family ties. Refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, and Eritrea accounted for 30 percent of all black African immigrants in 2009, while around one-fifth of black African immigrants entered the United States through the diversity visa lottery program—which provides 55,000 visas each year to countries underrepresented in immigrant streams to the United States. Around 400,000 black immigrants in the United States are here without legal status.
Another statistic shows black immigrants are one of the most-educated immigrant groups with more college education and higher rates of degree attainment than any other immigrant group in the United States.
In the Summer, President Obama traveled to Sub Saharan Africa to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania promoting democracy, infrastructure improvements, and economic stability for the African Nations. While on the trip, the President, a descendant of a Kenyan father, did not travel to his family’s home nation of Kenya due to security concerns.
During the trip, I interviewed the President aboard Air Force One where he spoke on issues from AIDS, to the rising new African leadership, and to the competition with China in building African infrastructure.
Also, as much news was made in the Motherland, the journey of President Obama was overshadowed by icon Nelson Mandela’s health and the trial of George Zimmerman back in the United States.
President Obama continued his efforts to curb gun violence in the wake of the Newtown tragedy where 20 children and 6 adults were killed the end of 2012. The President announced his stance on stricter gun control laws where he called for a mandate for universal background checks for gun purchases, in addition to nominating an ATF Director. Education Secretary Arne Duncan punctuated the event by saying, “there are more deaths across the nation of kids 1 to 5 than there are police officers in this country.”
Gun violence also came back to the forefront during the Summer acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. President Obama took time to feel the pulse of the nation and access his own thoughts as he personally prepared his statements to the nation, a week after the verdict was announced. From the White House Briefing Room unexpected late that Friday afternoon, the President said, “I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front…”
The verdict drew raw emotion in the black community because many blacks believe the judicial system has not always been fair. Behind the scenes, the White House has been examining existing Federal programs that focus on “at risk” minorities. A closer focus began on this issue after the President’s June meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House.
In August, United States Labor Secretary, Tom Perez offered up details on some programs that have been in place since 2011. Perez says he talks with the President and senior leadership about this revealing, “we’re gonna continue to do everything in our power and then some to address this issue. This is a legacy issue for this administration, making sure the Ladders of Opportunity remain open for everyone. Because let’s face it too many people have begun to lose hope. They believe that opportunity is elusive that the rungs between the ladder are far away from each other.”
Perez spent time in the Justice Department in the Civil Rights division under Attorney General Eric Holder who Chairs the Inter-agency Re-entry Council. The group pulls together about 20 federal government agencies to combat the alarming rates of minority youth incarcerations. “There have been a number of grants the Office of Justice programs have given to the Urban League, to other non profits in various cities across the country to provide employment focused reentry services to youth and adults,” according to Perez.
Tackling incarceration alternatives for “at risk” youth is not a foreign subject to the President. In February, President Obama traveled to Chicago meeting with about 16 African American male teens in a private roundtable discussion. The students are enrolled in an anti-youth-violence program named Becoming a Man (B.A.M.). The organization offers school-based counseling, mentoring, and enrichment to young men deemed “at-risk.” The White House finds the level of risk these youth face is decreased when they are enrolled in organizations like B.A.M.
In August, three Presidents paused to remember the history of the March on Washington and the nation’s most successful movement of change; the Civil Right movement. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin “because President Kennedy was not ready to make any concessions,” according to Dr. Rosalyn Terbborg-Penn, University Professor Emerita, Morgan State University.
President Obama by Proclamation said the Marchers five decades ago stirred the Nation’s “conscience and paved the way for two major victories of the Civil Rights movement: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. August 28, 1963, 250,000 people stood for hours at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to listen to a list of speakers. The crowd consisted of men, women, children, black, white, religious leaders, UAW Union members and everyday citizens. One of he highlights of the day, was the last speech by then 33-year old minister Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who addressed the crowd with a prepared speech where he talked about blacks receiving a check from the government stamped “insufficient funds”, and then the non-scripted portion known as “I Have a Dream.”
BEN JEALOUS RESIGNATION
In September, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored people began its search for its next leader after the 104-year-old organization announced Ben Jealous, the organization’s 17th National President, resigned his post effective December 31, 2013. The irony of the Jealous resignation is that he signed a three-year contract in October 2012. That contract included an out clause allowing him to leave the office with two years remaining on that agreement. The Civil Rights organization dismissed conversations about infighting as a reason for the departure. According to NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, “disagreements, discussions, consensus, negations are part of the normal ebb and flow of any organization. And it seems as if folks are thinking the NAACP is immune from that in some way. The business of civil rights is a tough business! ” Brock ultimately believes “in the brand of the NAACP” saying “the organization is stronger than any one of us.” White House officials were notified via email about the news of the Jealous exit during the G-20 Summit in Russia. A White House official said the Obama Administration “values” his work and will continue to work with the NAACP on various matters. Jealous says every American President dating back to Woodrow Wilson has sought to meet with the President of the NAACP and its Board.
October 1 was a day that carried two major agenda items for both sides of Pennsylvania Ave. It was the day of the launch of HealthCare.gov and the Obama Administration’s efforts to help get most of the nations 40 million uninsured Americans enrolled in a health insurance plan. It was also the deadline for a government shutdown because of an impasse between Republicans and Democrats on how to balance the federal governments pocketbook.
On the Affordable Care Act website, the implementation of the Marketplace and enrollment was hindered as the website could not handle the capacity of the overwhelming response. It was an embarrassment for the Administration and back to the drawing board to fix HealthCare.gov. Yet, from October 1 to December 31, 2013 2 million persons enrolled in the ACA Market Place. In December 2013 Valerie Jarrett capped off the year talking about the Affordable Care Act, acknowledging what the President said earlier in the month, “‘This is hard.’ It’s always been hard in our country. It has always been a struggle. The civil rights movement was a struggle, fighting to get equal pay for women was a struggle. Making sure we get everybody signed up for Affordable Care is going to be a struggle.” Jarrett says the administration is going to learn from our mistakes and re double our efforts.
President Obama signed up for DC Marketplace Insurance in late December as a symbolic gesture and also in efforts to encourage Americans to enroll. Meanwhile, Americans without insurance by January 2015 will begin to incur financial penalties.
During the Government Shutdown, there was 16-day work stoppage for some federal government workers and some others worked without pay. At issue, Republicans wanted to negotiate a shutdown fix by putting the Affordable Care Act on the chopping block. President Obama said “no.” A deal was struck to get the workers back on the job, pay them for the time off, and to defer budget haggling to a January 15, 2014 deadline. At the end of 2013 there was some belt tightening, programs like the unemployment benefit extension was halted and SNAP saw funding reductions. SNAP, a program for the nation’s food insecure, formerly know as the Food Stamp Program, is said to have kept 5 million out of poverty in 2012 to include 2.2 million children.
The world lost an icon of the 21st century, Nelson Mandela a man who fought for justice and equality for the black majority over white minority rule in South Africa. As Mandela rose as an anti-apartheid activist that was jailed for 27 years, he ultimately garnered the highest rung of power in South Africa as the nations first black President. Critics contend Mandela accomplished much to rid his nation of the residue of apartheid. But he was not able to turn around the economic impoverished condition of many blacks there.
Former President Bill Clinton in an exclusive interview says Mandela did a “pretty good job” in spite of issues like the growing AIDS epidemic in that country, and the immigration of many Zimbabwe residents fleeing to South Africa. President Obama says Mandela was an idol. Former President Bill Clinton called Mandela a friend. Clinton was President of the United States when Mandela was President of South Africa. LISTEN: