Remarks at the National Urban League

Remarks by Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President on Urban Policy, to the National Urban League on Thursday July 29, 2010 as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon.

First let me say what an honor it is to be invited to participate in the 100-year anniversary celebration of the National Urban League.  I want to thank Marc Morial for his exemplary leadership of this storied organization and to congratulate the Urban League on its century of extraordinary work.

Inspired by the great African American migration to the north, since its founding this organization has played a leading role in developing the foundation for increased economic opportunity for families and communities in urban centers across the country.  And, its vision and leadership in this regard continues—as the National Urban League has been one of our most trusted allies and valuable partners in our effort to restore economic stability and growth in our Nation.

The title of this session asks the question:  What is the future of African Americans in 2025?  This question of how to build a brighter future for African Americans – indeed, all Americans -- has been at the forefront of President Obama’s mind since the day he took office, and his answer to this question can be found in the New Foundation that the President has outlined for America.

The President appreciated early on that to build a brighter future for America the foundation had to be strengthened.  No longer could we have a society where economic security, access to quality health care, a solid education, and the right to live the American Dream are limited to a chosen few.

The President is addressing these challenges head-on by laying a New Foundation for America so that any one - regardless of color, socio-economic status, gender, or ethnic background - has an equal opportunity to succeed in this Nation.

That’s why, through the Recovery Act, President Obama made a record investment to spur job creation, provide workforce training, extend opportunities to minority businesses and support business development for emerging industries.

Through the landmark Affordable Care Act, the President fought to provide all families with affordable health care choices and better preventative care, to provide urban communities with greater access to health services through the Community Health Centers program, and to eliminate discrimination in obtaining health insurance.

As the President spoke about earlier today, he has also aggressively pursued an education reform agenda – through innovative programs like Race to the Top and Promise Neighborhoods – to turn around underperforming schools and provide children in economically distressed communities with the wrap around services they need so that they have the full spectrum of quality educational experiences and opportunities from cradle to career.

The President also created the first ever White House Office of Urban Affairs and charged it with creating an urban policy agenda that is comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and place-based in nature such that all children, regardless of where they are born, have the opportunity to grow up in an environment that is economically vibrant, environmentally sustainable, healthy and safe, and socially inclusive so that zip codes are no longer the predictor of a child’s life chances.

Combined with efforts to ensure an individual’s civil rights and civil liberties, this New Foundation will contribute greatly to a higher quality of life for African American children, and indeed all children, in the year 2025.

Because of my role as the urban policy lead in the White House, I want to take a final moment to delve a little deeper into what the Obama Administration is doing to improve the future of urban America – the core cities and metropolitan areas where the great work of the National Urban League is directed.

The Administration’s urban policy focuses on working across federal agencies to be more strategic and comprehensive in supporting urban development.   Our belief is that by breaking down silos within the federal government and aligning federal programs, we will provide a more efficient and effective partner with local governments, non-profits, the private sector and other stakeholders on the ground in addressing the challenges that have plagued our urban communities for decades.

We have a Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative that is working to leverage existing federal funding to revitalize our most economically distressed, high poverty neighborhoods.  Thus, we are looking for ways to coordinate federal programs like HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program and ED’s Promise Neighborhoods with programs like HHS’s Community-based Health Centers and DOJ’s public safety investments.  This also includes our efforts to eliminate food deserts in urban areas – an issue that has been embraced by the First Lady as part of her mission to eliminate childhood obesity – because, in a nation as rich as ours, no community should lack access to fresh and healthy foods.

We also have a Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is focused on infrastructure development that connects urban communities to key drivers in life – quality housing, efficient public transportation, green open spaces, high-performing schools and reliable jobs. This Initiative is looking to DOT, HUD and EPA to coordinate investments in cities and metropolitan areas so that communities provide greater access to opportunity and are more sustaining of the social interactions that keep all communities vibrant.

Finally, our Regional Innovation Clusters Initiative is focused on spurring innovation, economic and business development, and job training in urban areas and connecting these economic assets to broader regional economic opportunities.  This means tailoring workforce training to needs of emerging industry, and creating more opportunity for small and minority owned businesses.  By 2025, we will find African American entrepreneurs participating in integrated regional economies with more of an emphasis on exports and industries that are just beginning today—green, clean, health IT, and more.

Taken together, the New Foundation that President Obama is building is crucial to the future of African Americans and all Americans.  Indeed, the investments that have been (and will continue to be) made to strengthen our economy, reform health care, revitalize our education system, bolster our urban communities and protect civil rights will leave our country standing on stronger ground than ever.

Thank you.

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