Blog Posts Related to the African American Community

  • Lloyd Austin to Lead U.S. Central Command

    Ed. note: The full text of the op-ed by Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett is printed below. The piece is published today on BET.com and can be found HERE

    Today, General Lloyd Austin became the first African-American to lead the U.S. Central Command, which has a wide-ranging area of responsibility for 20 countries in the Middle East and southwest Asia. His appointment is effective immediately.

    During the change of command ceremony today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, “General Austin brings to this position combat experience gained on the unforgiving battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has commanded some of the Army’s most storied formations, including the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, as well as the 18th Airborne Corps...With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge, and proven judgment – and with the love and support of Charlene and their children – I am confident General Austin is prepared to lead this command at a time of dramatic change, challenge, and turmoil in its area of responsibility.”

    In his 37-year career, General Austin has continually broken barriers for African-Americans in the U.S. Army. He was also the first African-American to serve in his previous position as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. His historic career includes leading the 3rd Infantry Division in the opening months of the Iraq war where he earned a Silver Star for valor. General Austin later commanded divisions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and commanded U.S. Forces-Iraq from September 2010 through the completion of the mission in December 2011.

  • African American History Month Final Wrap-Up

    What a week—we marked the end of Black History Month with several receptions, policy briefings, a memorial dedication for Rosa Parks and a guest chef at the White House.

    African American Healthcare Briefing
    The White House Office of Public Engagement and the Department of Health & Human Services hosted a live town hall discussion on the ACA Affordable Care Act (ACA). The briefing was an interactive program with a two panel discussion and breakout session with members of African American health organizations and community leaders.

    Black History Month Reception
    Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and U.S. Representative John Lewis hosted a Black History Month reception at the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory on Wednesday. The guests included the Attorney General Eric Holder, Administrator Bolden, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Civil Rights Leaders, and local elected officials from around the country. . Guests could also view the National Archives special exhibit at the Observatory, “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” about Rosa Parks.

    Champions of Change: African American Educational Excellence
    The White House Office of Public Engagement hosted a Champions of Change event honoring leaders who have advanced educational excellence for the African American community. The Champions of Change initiative honors ordinary people who do extraordinary acts in their communities, all across the country.  During the Champions of Change event, we recognized 10 individuals who have devoted their time and efforts to improve educational outcomes for African American students.

    Guest chef in the White House Mess: B. Smith
    To celebrate the culinary side of African American History Month, B. Smith, chef and owner of three restaurants in Washington DC and New York was guest chef in the White House Mess and an African American History Month reception in the East Room on Wednesday. She prepared some delicious comfort food favorites, such as black-eyed pea soup and bread pudding to the delight of White House staff and guests.

    Catching Up with the Curator
    The painting, completed in 1863 by William Carlton, shows a group of African American men, women and children waiting for the clock to strike midnight—the hour the Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect. Check it out, and learn why President Obama chose this painting to hang in the West Wing.

    Rosa Parks has a Permanent Place in the U.S Capitol.
    National Statuary Hall inside the U.S Capitol was once the meeting place of the House of     Representatives. Now it’s the home to a collection of statues and monuments—two form each state—representing some of the defining figures in our nation’s history. Yesterday, those sculptures were joined by that of a civil rights icon. One hundred years after she was born and 58 years after she refused to give up her seat on an Alabama city bus, Rosa Parks has a permanent place in the halls of Congress.

  • Champions of Change: African American Educational Excellence

    Yesterday, we held a Champions of Change event honoring leaders who have advanced educational excellence for the African American community.

    We bring in ordinary Americans who are doing extraordinary things in their communities, all across the country. We call them “Champions of Change.” It’s been a very busy and exciting African American History Month, and yesterday’s event was a vital part of the celebration.

    During the Champions of Change event, we recognized 10 individuals who have devoted their time and efforts to improve educational outcomes for African American students. These amazing leaders are making a difference in their communities, whether at the local, state or regional level. And they embody the spirit of the new initiative that was launched last year.

    President Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He established it so that every child has access to a complete and competitive education from the time they're born, through the time they get a career. Yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a guest appearance to introduce the new Director of the Initiative, David Johns.

    The Initiative works across Federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce better education programs for African American students.

    The goal is to make sure that all African American students receive an education that fully prepares them for high school graduation, college completion, and productive careers.

    As advocates, motivators, volunteers and leaders, these champions’ efforts to advance this mission in their communities are nothing short of heroic.

    Whether they are spearheading teen mentoring programs, advocating for students with special needs or disabilities, or addressing school absenteeism, their work and involvement is the key to helping our all of our children thrive in their schools and communities.

    Our champions had a lively and vibrant discussion during the event—they shared powerful stories about their neighborhoods and backgrounds that moved them to action.

    For example, many of the panelists spoke about the enormous influence of their parents and social networks, and asked how we could incorporate family support structures into advancing education for African Americans.

    They also came up with some takeaways: the importance of showing love and support to young people, especially the ones that are struggling, thinking about their needs upfront, and asking young people to tell their stories and dreams so that adults can get a better idea of what works for them.

    The President had a similar message a couple weeks ago in Hyde Park Academy in Chicago. During his speech, he said, “in America, your destiny shouldn’t be determined by where you live, where you were born. It should be determined by how big you’re willing to dream, how much effort and sweat and tears you’re willing to put in to realizing that dream.

    He also spoke of “ladders of opportunity,” giving our next generation a leg up to enter the middle class. That includes raising minimum wage, keeping our children safe, and high quality education.

    As President Obama said in his Chicago speech, even as the government tries to build these ladders, we know that we can’t do it alone. It will require the efforts of everyone to create a better future for our country. Our Champions of Change inspire us to see that one person can make a huge difference.

  • Catching Up with the Curator: Watch Meeting--Dec. 31st 1862--Waiting for the Hour

    To mark African American History Month, as well as the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we talked with White House Curator Bill Allman about a painting called Watch Meeting--Dec. 31st 1862--Waiting for the Hour that hangs near the Oval Office in the West Wing.

    The painting, completed in 1863 by William Carlton, shows a group of African American men, women and children waiting for the clock to strike midnight -- the hour the Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect. 

    Check it out, and learn why President Obama chose this painting to hang in the West Wing. 

  • African American History Month Weekly Wrap-up

    This week, to celebrate African American history month, we held events for civil, community, LGBT and business leaders here at the White House. We had wonderful discussions, highlighting ways to increase equality and opportunity for all and celebrating African American history and opportunities to pave the way forward for the next generation of leaders. These are the groups that came into the White House as part of our week’s events for African American History Month.

    Here’s a rundown on all the exciting events that have been happening this past week:

    Tuesday: Association of African American Life and History Panel Event 

    The Association of African American Life and History is a group of historians and academics who, among other duties, come up with the theme of African American History month every year. The theme this year, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington,” commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. The association came in for a panel, featuring Michael Strautmanis, Counselor to the Senior Advisor for Strategic Engagement, to hear about the Administration’s actions and priorities for the African American community.

    Wednesday: Doing Business in Africa Forum

    On Tuesday, we welcomed the business and entrepreneurship community to the Doing Business in Africa forum, which featured speakers from the Department of Commerce, the White House, and private and nonprofit sectors to highlight how the federal government can use trade promotion, financing and strategic communications and capabilities to help U.S. businesses identify and seize opportunities in Africa. The goal of the forum was to help give tools to overcome any challenges they face to establishing business relationships with Africa.

    Thursday: African American Leaders Meeting with POTUS

    African American Leaders Meeting with President Obama

    Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

    President Obama met with African American leaders in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. They discussed his plan to strengthen the economy for the middle class and to build ladders of opportunity, through increasing access to job training programs, partnering with high-poverty communities to help them rebuild, and encouraging companies to invest in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Other topics included how to expanding universal pre-K education for every child as a way to significantly decrease the achievement gap, as well as improvements to the voting process. The leaders also highlighted their goals to continue to build momentum for Congress to act in the best interests of the American people by supporting policies that help move our country forward.

    Thursday: Black LGBT Emerging Leaders Briefing

    At the Black LGBT Emerging Leaders Briefing, 175 young leaders gathered to hear about policies and accomplishments that impact the African American and LGBT communities. We also connected participants with ongoing Obama Administration programs and outreach efforts and with black LGBT Administration officials who can serve as mentors and role models. And we heard from the participants about the opportunities and obstacles they encounter in their campuses, neighborhoods, and communities.

  • Addressing HIV in the Black Community

    Ed. note: This was cross-posted from The Root.

    Yesterday, on Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I had the pleasure of meeting with leaders who are doing outstanding work to prevent new HIV infections and improve health outcomes for African-Americans.  We shared stories and discussed the importance of engaging everyone in these efforts, including faith leaders, educators, athletes, entertainers, artists, scientists, healthcare providers as well as friends, families, and neighbors.

    This approach also reflects the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which calls for a collective response to the ongoing domestic epidemic, and sets specific goals with regard to addressing HIV-related disparities among African-Americans. 

    Our conversation was both sobering and inspiring. Sobering because of the challenges that remain in addressing the epidemic, including confronting the myths about HIV transmission and the virus itself. Inspiring because during our dialogue it became clear that these leaders are committed to breaking down barriers that impede our progress in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS.

    Data highlight the urgency of this work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS and nearly 50,000 people become infected with HIV each year.  In 2010, African-Americans accounted for only 14% of the U.S. population, but 44% of new HIV infections. The majority (70%) of new HIV infections among African-Americans occur among black men, and are concentrated among gay men. In fact, young black gay and bisexual men who are the only group in the black community where new HIV infections are increasing.  Black women represent 30% of new infections among African-Americans. Transgender black women are also at risk for HIV with as many as one in three in some studies diagnosed with HIV. And only 21% of black Americans have a suppressed viral load, the key health marker for HIV treatment.