Engage and Connect

President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.

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Latest News

  • Muslim Women Emerging Leaders: Rising Beyond the Ceiling

    “As we honor the many women who have shaped our history, let us also celebrate those who make progress in our time.” – President Obama, Women's History Month Proclamation 2014

    Muslim Women Emerging Leaders

    In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Office of Public Engagement organized and hosted a Muslim women emerging leaders event at the White House. The event brought together leading Muslim American women and aspiring young Muslim women to celebrate their aspirations and honor their contributions to our nation to bring progress in our time; hear directly from Administration officials about policies and programs affecting women; and discuss ways to rise beyond the ceiling and become leaders in government, media, business, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

    More than 80 women from various states and local universities and high schools participated in the event and had the opportunity to share their experiences and hear from Administration staffers and other leaders in the community.

    Key speakers included former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussain, Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls Avra Siegel, and outreach liaison to Muslim American communities for the White House Office of Public Engagement Rumana Ahmed, who all shared their perspectives on women—specifically Muslim women—in leadership across sectors and the role of identity. The main panel was moderated by Hoda Elshishtawy of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who partnered in organizing this leadership event.

    During breakout sessions, participants also heard about opportunities and initiatives from White House staff, including Press Secretary for the First Lady Joanna Rosholm, Press Assistant Monica Lee and Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Danielle Carnival.

    They also heard from other Muslim women in the field, including former CNN executive Maria Ebrahimji, Raheemah Abdulaleem from the Department of Justice, Reema Dodin from the Hill and Founder & CEO of Invest to Innovate, Kalsoom Lakhani.

    Opportunity for all, women’s empowerment and leadership, and equality were all issues that brought these women together and what the President has already moved to act on. Read more about President Obama’s actions here.

    Rumana Ahmed leads Arab American and Muslim American outreach and is the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

  • Enhancing Health Care Protections for LGBT Individuals

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from HHS.gov

    Throughout the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we operate on the fundamental belief that every American deserves equal opportunity, equal protection, and equal rights under the law. When we are sick or injured, we depend on health care professionals to treat us with competence, compassion, and the understanding that we are protected against mistreatment.

    Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) individuals harms the health and well-being of LGBT individuals and their families in many ways. Like everyone else, LGBT individuals should receive regular health care when and where they need it, without fear of disclosing their sexual history and gender identity to their health care providers, and with the freedom to involve their partners in their care. But they often cannot do so, or believe they cannot do so, based on the threat of discrimination.

    HHS has in place a matrix of powerful protections to ensure that LGBT individuals have equal access to health care and freedom from discrimination:

    • The Affordable Care Act prevents health insurance companies from raising rates or denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition like HIV/AIDS, cancer, or mental health concernsor because they happen to be LGBT.
    • Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer impose a lifetime limit on coverage. This is particularly important to HIV/AIDS patients, and anyone else who has a chronic condition.
    • The landmark civil rights provision, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sex, which includes discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity. While implementing regulations are being drafted, HHS is accepting complaints and enforcing the law.
    • Insurance companies are prohibited from discriminating against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including against same-sex spouses with respect to an offer of spousal coverage.

    All of this is good news for the LGBT community, particularly when we consider that prior to the new coverage options provided under the health care law, one in three lower income LGBT adults in our country did not have health insurance. You don’t have to be an expert to figure out what we need to do to get the word out. It’s outreach. It’s education. It’s communication. Information is a powerful tool to equip individuals, friends, family, and community leaders with knowledge to ensure LGBT people have access to quality, affordable health care and freedom from discrimination.

    We hope you will continue to join us in this important work.

    Matthew Heinz is the Director of Provider & LGBT Outreach for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Juliet K. Choi is the Chief of Staff & Senior Advisor, Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Naturalization Ceremony Blog Post – “Welcoming New Partners to our Bold Experiment”

    On Tuesday, I had the privilege of speaking to hundreds of new citizens at a naturalization ceremony held at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Va.  It was an incredible experience — one that made me proud of our country’s well-earned reputation as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.  Gathered in one place were 700 individuals from over 100 different countries, represented by different flags, different cultures and different systems of government.  These 700 took an oath in unison and in one single moment they all became Americans. 

    Of course, their individual journeys to this day were much more unique, complicated and hard fought than could ever be captured in a moment.  Some came from across the globe — from nations like Brazil, Russia, India, China, Ireland, Ghana and Afghanistan.  Others came from our neighbors – Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Some of them are business owners, doctors, teachers, artists and engineers.  And some are parents caring for America’s next generation.  

    Some are new citizens like Corporal Jorge Luis Cuji Villacis, who came here from Ecuador when he was 11 years old, went to school and then joined the U.S. Marine Corps because he wanted to make his family proud, serve this country and become a better person. 

    And what I found so inspiring about this ceremony is what it reaffirmed about this country.  We are a nation bound together not by a shared race, a single ethnicity or a state-sanctioned religious faith.  We ask neither that such traits be inherited nor left behind.  Instead, our country is defined by our founding principles: freedom, equality and democracy.  The idea that you are free to control your destiny and help shape the future of this nation, no matter where you came from, no matter who your ancestors are and no matter what you look like.  More than a place on the map, that spirit is what the United States of America represents and it’s what these new citizens embody. 

    Becoming an American citizen and taking part in our shared story is a precious privilege that no one in that auditorium took for granted.  So as we welcome these new partners to our bold experiment in self-government, we must work to improve the inefficient immigration system that hampered them, and so many other talented immigrants, from starting their lives here.

    We know that we can improve that system by strengthening our borders, streamlining legal immigration, holding employers accountable and creating a firm but fair path to earned citizenship for those immigrants who are already contributing to our economy and society in so many ways.  

    That’s why we remain committed to working with Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reforms that will do justice to our immigration system and the hard working, talented individuals who come through that system seeking the privilege of becoming an American.

    # Tony West is the Associate Attorney General for the Department of Justice

  • Working Towards Healthier Latino Communities

    EPA 1

    Administrator McCarthy Speaks to the NHMA Board of Directors at the National Hispanic Medical Association 18th Annual Conference.

    The relationship between environmental protection and public health is at the heart of EPA’s mission and the agenda of the National Hispanic Medical Association. For years, Hispanic communities have been living in areas where the quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink does not meet national standards. In 2009, 70% of Hispanic children lived in areas with poor air quality. All too often, Latinos work in occupations where they are exposed to greater environmental hazards and toxic chemicals. Furthermore, when it comes to health disparities, Latinos, particularly Puerto Ricans, are disproportionately affected by asthma attacks and asthma related deaths. Make no mistake. Climate change is very much a public health threat; it widens the health disparities we work to address.

    EPA will keep fighting for environmental justice—but we can’t do it alone. We can never underestimate the importance of Hispanic medical providers as a culturally competent link, ensuring the health of the Hispanic community in America. Therefore, EPA and the NHMA are starting to work more closely together to meet our common goals of improving the environmental health of Hispanic communities throughout the nation. We have been sharing valuable information and expertise to address the challenges Latino and underserved communities face, from air quality issues and many more.

    EPA 2

    Administrator Gina McCarthy and Dr. Elena Ríos with members of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

    EPA recently took a step forward to protect the predominantly Hispanic farm worker community from the dangers of pesticide exposure. Each year, between 1,200 and 1,400 pesticide exposure incidents are reported on farms and in fields or forests. Last month, EPA proposed commonsense revisions to the Worker Protection Standard to protect farmworkers and their families. This is just one example of a step toward healthier communities. We’re not going to solve our environmental and health challenges overnight.  Yet, we know that together we can make a difference to ensure that we have a cleaner, healthier environment and true environmental justice for all.

    EPA and NHMA’s goals of protecting our environment and public health are aligned. In fact, they are joined at the hip. Our future and the future of our children depend on clean air, clean water and a stable climate. Hispanic communities, EPA, and the NHMA are working towards that goal.

    Together, we hope to make a difference, one community at a time.

    Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

    # Gina McCarthy and Dr. Elena Rios

  • White House Champions of Change for the Future of American Agriculture

    In the field of agriculture, we have a very important question to ask ourselves: who will the next generation of farmers and ranchers be?

    For more than three decades, the share of farms operated by beginning farmers has been in decline.  Beginning farms and ranches accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s 2 million family farms and ranches in 2012down from about 35 percent in 1982. Consistent with this trend, the average age of principal farm operators in the United States has risen in that period, from 51 to 58.

    Since day one, the Obama Administration has supported opportunities for people who want to work the land and produce food, fuel, and fiber for our country. The Administration continues to make these critical investments because of the great innovation and promise that agriculture holds.

    The White House will be hosting a Champions of Change event to celebrate local agriculture leaders who are taking innovative approaches to support American farming and ranchingboth now and in the future.  These leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase their actions to support the future of agriculture.

    Today, we’re asking you to help us identify these standout local leaders by nominating a Champion of Change for the New Generation of American Agriculture by noon on Friday, April 18. These Champions may be:

    • Beginning farmers and ranchers using innovative practices and techniques to create productive and sustainable farms and ranches that will feed people at home and abroad long into the future.
    • Producers, foresters, small-business owners, and scientists using Farm Bill programs to drive agricultural productivity and economic competitiveness.
    • Local leaders that are working to build new opportunities for those who want to work on the land, create innovation in the field of agriculture, support diversity in agriculture, and connect a new generation to their food, fiber, fuel, and agricultural neighbors.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose “Future of American Agriculture” in the “Theme of Service” field of the nomination form).

    Nominate a Champion of Change for the Future of American Agriculture

    We look forward to hosting this event at the White House this spring, highlighting the great work of our nation’s agriculture leaders. Thank you for your dedication to American agriculture and the overall wellbeing of our rural communities. 

  • Passover Haroset Recipes

    Haroset, symbolic of the mortar the Jewish slaves of ancient Egypt used to build the Pharaoh’s cities and store-houses, is probably one of the favorite foods of Passover with recipes passed down in families from generation to generation.

    Since most American Jews come from Ashkenazic backgrounds, they enjoy a version of haroset using just apples and walnuts, explains Susan Barocas, founder of the Jewish Food Experience, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. At the end of a long winter, apples likely would have been the only fruit left in cold cellars in Central and Eastern Europe.

    But the truth is that recipes for haroset are as varied and unique as the families that celebrate, with the ingredients reflecting the ingredients and flavors available in the all the many lands where Jews have lived. Figs, apricots, dates and oranges are popular in different haroset along with a variety of nuts and spices such as ginger and allspice.

    In the end, haroset-making is deliciously imprecise. Nearly everything can be—and is—adjusted to personal taste. Making haroset by hand with a knife or in a chopping bowl is laborious, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to involve children and others in holiday preparations. But not to be discounted—the food processor makes it easy to prepare more than one kind of haroset to enjoy as part of your Passover, celebrating all the many journeys of Jews around the world through the many generations.

    Here are three haroset recipes from Susan. Feel free to add the word “about” in front of any of the measurements!

    TRADITIONAL ASHKENAZIC HAROSET

    The apple-to-nut ratio, as well as what kind of apples to use, are up to the haroset maker. This version of this Passover classic has more of those ingredients and less sugar than other recipes. Even the consistency varies widely. Some people like it ground to a fine paste; others leave it chunky. It’s up to individual taste.

    • 1 cup walnuts
    • 3 apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into about 8 pieces
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or to taste
    • 1 tablespoon sugar or to taste
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons grape juice or sweet Passover wine

    Put the walnuts in the chopping bowl if doing by hand or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Roughly chop into large dice or pulse just a few times in the processor, being careful not over-process. Add the apple pieces and chop or pulse to desired consistency. Add rest of ingredients and stir well to blend. Makes about 2 cups.

    MOROCCAN HAROSET BALLS

    A typical Moroccan haroset recipe contains dried fruits and spices ground to a paste-like consistency. Traditionally, Moroccan-Jewish families roll the haroset into small balls that are delicious eaten alone or squished between two pieces of matzah. They also make a delicious snack or part of a Passover breakfast.

    • 3/4 cup walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts
    • 1 1/2 cups pitted dates
    • 1/2 cup dried apricots
    • 2 or 3 dried figs
    • 1 cup raisins (dark, golden or any combination)
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 or 2 pinches allspice
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons sweet red wine or grape juice
    • Finely ground walnuts or almonds (optional)

    Using a food processor, pulse to coarsely chop the nuts, then add all the rest of the ingredients except the wine and finely ground nuts. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped and well blended, adding just enough wine as you are pulsing to make the mixture stick together. Too much and it will be too sticky. As you pulse it, the mixture will form a large ball. Now you are ready to roll. Very slightly dampen hands with cold water. Gently roll the mixture into balls about ¾ inches in diameter or your desired size. Place the balls on a tray or baking sheet covered in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. Serve or store in a covered container. Or you can roll each ball in finely ground nuts, which will keep them from sticking together so they can be stored immediately in a covered container. These treats will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, but rarely last that long. Makes about 24 balls.

    PERSIAN HAROSET

    Presenting this haroset shaped into a pyramid is traditional among the Jews of Persia. This recipe reflects the many fruits and spices of ancient Persia, known since 1935 as Iran. Jews have lived in Persia for over 2,500 years and developed a delicious, healthy cuisine alongside the larger Persian community. Any Persian haroset recipe almost always includes tropical fruits that grow in the country. A wide variety of nuts is used throughout Persian cooking, as reflected in the four types used here. Unlike the very sweet Ashkenazi haroset, this recipe adds a taste of cider vinegar, very typical of the savory-sweet combination found in Persian cooking.

    • 3/4 cup walnuts
    • 3/4 cup raw and unsalted almonds
    • 3/4 cup raw hazelnuts
    • 3/4 cup raw and unsalted pistachio nuts
    • 2 unpeeled pears, cored and cut into chunks
    • 1 unpeeled apple, cored and cut into chunks
    • 1 cup dates, pitted
    • 2 small oranges or 1 large, peeled, pitted, sectioned and finely chopped with juice
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger root
    • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
    • Sweet Passover wine or grape juice

    Pulse nuts in food processor until finely chopped. Put into a large bowl. Chop the fruits, except the orange, by pulsing also, being careful not to chop the mixture into a paste. Add all the fruit, including the orange already chopped by hand and its juice, to nuts and stir to blend well. Add cinnamon, ginger root, cider vinegar and just enough wine to bind. Mix very well. Place haroset mixture on a square platter and shape into a pyramid using your hands. A flat spatula can be used to smooth the “walls.” Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours to let the flavors blend.

    Matt Nosanchuk is the White House Liaison to the American Jewish community.

  • SBA Takes Part in Muslim Business Leadership Roundtable

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from SBA.gov
     
    I had the pleasure to recently participate in the White House Business Council’s Roundtable with Muslim American Business Leaders that brought together the business and faith-based community for a dialogue on how to support small businesses that start, grow and create jobs that sustain our nation’s economy.
     
    The forum recognized the tremendous contributions of Muslim American entrepreneurs and small business owners. There were nearly 20 business owners in attendance that represented various industries and sectors of small business. The roundtable provided a platform to acquaint business leaders taking part with SBA’s programs and services that are available to assist small businesses.
     
    Joining me at the roundtable was SBA’s John Shoraka, Associate Administrator for Government Contracting and Business Development, and Ann Marie Mehlum, Associate Administrator for Capital Access. Other participating agencies included the National Economic Council and the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration. 
     
    The conversation outlined the progress that SBA has made in supporting entrepreneurs, including minority-owned small businesses, and laid the groundwork for greater collaboration in the coming months with these important community leaders. 
     
    The SBA was privileged to have a seat at the table to help address the needs of the Muslim American business community. It gave us an opportunity to tell the story of SBA’s mission to counsel and assist businesses, and to strengthen the economy of our nation. We were able to provide information about our key programs they can use to grow their businesses. This includes SBA’s lending programs that work to address gaps in capital, as well as our government contracting programs that help small businesses compete in the federal marketplace.
     
    SBA’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships works to build strong relationships with both secular and faith-based nonprofit organizations to encourage entrepreneurship, support economic growth and promote prosperity for all Americans.
     
    We at SBA recognize the important role of all business communities and networks in economic development at the federal level, and that partnerships can provide effective and valuable steps in moving forward to engage and impact communities, especially those that are underserved and economically challenged.
     
    We are working to ensure that the nation’s job creators have access to the tools they need to build, grow and strengthen. 
     
    Sarah Bard is the Director for SBA’s Office of Faith Based: Neighborhood Partnerships.

  • Gun Violence Prevention Champions of Change: #ActForOurKids

    Last Thursday, parents, youth, advocates and community and national leaders from across the country came together at the White House to honor nine Champions of Change who have dedicated their lives to innovative approaches to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer.  

    Among the honorees and attendees were victims of gun violence, parents whose children were killed by senseless gun violence and individuals whose siblings, friends and neighbors were killed or have been victims of gun violence.

    One of the honorees, Mark Barden, became an outspoken advocate for gun law reform after his 7-year-old son was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the event, Mr. Barden held a photo of his family, which included all three of his children, and shared that, like many across the nation, gun violence did not become a real issue for him until it hit home. He explained that the loss of his son was a turning point in his life, and he has now dedicated his life to make sure no one else has to face this pain.

    Each of the attendees had a personal motivator for their hard work. Reverend Glenn Grayson was motivated by the murder of his 18-year old son, and explained that he used that tragedy as a source of empowerment to show youth that they can make more of their lives than what the media, community, or society presents to them. 

    Pamela Simon, Community Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, also shared her story as a survivor. On January 8, 2011, while staffing the Congresswoman, Pam was shot in the arm and the chest. She shared with the audience that, “those bullets hit Democrats and Republicans alike,” and that the rift between both parties on this issue is a detriment and danger to this nation.

    Each of these champions used their personal motivations and exposures to tragedies at the hands of irresponsible weapons use as a force of change in their communities. From creating organizations to rallying local, faith-based, or educational communities, these Champions of Change used their resources and voices to implement change across the United States for a more secure and responsible political, educational, and social environment for our children.

    Read more about them and share their stories here. 

    Valerie Jarrett with Gun Violence Prevention Champions of Change

    Valerie Jarrett meets with the Gun Violence Prevention Champions of Change April 3, 2014. (by Rumana Ahmed)

    Rumana Ahmed is the Executive Assistant to the Director of the Office of Public Engagement.