Blog Posts Related to the African American Community

  • Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. With Our Lives

    Today marks the 45th anniversary of the death of one of America’s great heroes and a giant of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Dr. King was working on the frontlines of a movement in Memphis to support the sanitation workers on strike when his life was taken. It was there that he gave his last speech, I’ve Been on a Mountaintop.

    Today, we pause and reflect on Dr. King’s extraordinary life and his tireless work to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. We stand on the shoulders of so many of our Civil Rights heroes who we’ve lost, such as Dr. King, Dorothy Height, and Rosa Parks. Yet their legacy continues.   

    This August, we also mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, when thousands descended upon the capital to rally for civil and economic rights for all Americans. It was there, at the Lincoln Memorial, that Dr. King gave his most iconic speech, I Have a Dream.

    Since Dr. King’s untimely and tragic death, we have strived to advance his ideals and realize his dream for all Americans to have the same economic and social opportunities.

  • President Obama Meets with Leaders of Sierra Leone, Senegal, Malawi, and Cape Verde

    Today President Obama welcomed President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde to the White House.  The United States has strong partnerships with these countries based on shared democratic values and shared interests.  Each of these leaders has undertaken significant efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, protect and expand human rights and civil liberties, and increase economic opportunities for their people. 

    President Obama and the visiting leaders discussed how the United States can expand our partnership to support their efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and promote economic opportunity, both in their countries and across sub-Saharan Africa.  A particular focus of the conversation was on the importance of transparency and respect for human rights, and President Obama commended each leader for their work in these areas and their commitment to join the Open Government Partnership.  President Obama also commended these leaders for their leadership on food security and engaged the leaders in a fruitful conversation about how the United States can help Africa harness the potential of its young people and empower the next generation of African leaders.

  • Black Men: Here’s Your Wake-up Call

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted forom The Grio.

    Have you received a wake-up call yet?

    For too many of us, it takes a sudden wake-up call — in the form of a major or minor health crisis — to make us realize that we’re not invincible.  And tragically, for some, that call comes too late.

    As black men, we often don’t talk about our health or seek help until something goes wrong. We may exercise and eat right. We may know how our habits today affect how we feel. But what about tomorrow? Are we making the right choices to stay healthy as we grow older? Most importantly, are we having the right conversations about health and well-being with our sons and our fathers, with our brothers, our colleagues, our neighbors, and our friends?

    According to the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, black men are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 60 percent more likely to die from a stroke than white men. And unfortunately, the list goes on — black men still suffer from higher rates of disease and chronic illness such as prostate cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

    Unless we act now, these disparities will continue to affect generations to come.  Their existence should be a wake-up call for all black men. It’s time to invest not only in our own health, but in the health of our communities.

    That starts by putting ourselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to our own care. The health care law signed by President Obama in 2010 is removing many of the obstacles to health care we’ve faced in the past. It provides access to preventive services – like screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes – at no cost to us.

  • 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 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.