Benedict College
Columbia, South Carolina

2:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Two great gentlemen.  Thank you very much.  And thank you all.  Please, sit down.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, President!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  And I want to thank Representative Donalds.  There’s somebody with a future.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know if I’d trade him — that future — for the age.  I’d love to pick up that age.  That was a good age.  But he’s got a tremendous future ahead of him.

And a very special thanks to Matthew Charles.  I saw him on television the first time when he had so much difficulty trying to get something that he was really entitled to.  And I looked at that smile.  That smile is infectious, and he’s a great gentleman and we’re very proud of him.

And I’m very proud of being involved with criminal justice reform and getting it done, getting it passed.  And we had a lot of votes that normally wouldn’t have gone that way.  And they really — they were pushing me, some of them, at the end.  And we have some of the folks here: Tim Scott and Lindsey.  They’re here.  But I’m going to introduce them in a little while.

But we had tremendous help.  This was a bipartisan bill.  We had a lot of support on both sides.  And people that you would’ve least expected really helped us a lot.  So, they’ve been trying to get this passed for many, many years.

But to everyone at the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center: It’s my great privilege to speak with you today, and my true honor to receive the Bipartisan Justice Award.  I am very, very grateful for that.  And it will be at a very high level in the Oval Office — a place called the Oval Office.  Have you heard about that?  (Applause.)  It’ll be right in the Oval Office with me.  I’m very proud of it.  Thank you.

I also want to thank everyone from one of our nation’s incredible HBCUs — I’ve been working with them — Benedict College.  We know Benedict College.  (Applause.)  And especially your very dynamic president, Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis.  (Applause.)  Where are you?  Where is Doctor?  Where are you?

And the outstanding students who are joining us today.  You are outstanding and you have a tremendous future.  Thank you.  Thank you all.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

We’re thrilled to be on your campus and to celebrate all that we have achieved together and to discuss the actions that we’re taking to build a future of safety and opportunity and fairness for all Americans.

Four years ago, 20 African American Republicans and 20 African American Democrats founded the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center to advance the cause of criminal justice reform.  And I’d heard about it for so long and it was going nowhere.  Nowhere.  But they all got together, and you fought to fix a broken system.  You sought to confront inequality and stop injustice.  And you worked to restore hope and optimism where they are really needed the most and where there was very little.

With your help, last year we brought the whole country together to achieve a truly momentous milestone.  They said it couldn’t be done.  Past administrations had tried and failed.  Some didn’t try very hard.  I will sell- — I will say that.  But they tried and they failed.

After years of waiting, we assembled a historic coalition.  And it was indeed historic.  We had them so liberal you wouldn’t believe it, and so conservative you wouldn’t believe it.  And they got together.  I said, “How did we do that one?”  But it was a beautiful thing to watch.  It really was.

And we rallied activists, and faith leaders, and law enforcement, and lawmakers alike.  We worked across party lines very strongly.
After all of the work and effort, we passed the bill and I proudly signed it into law — the most significant criminal justice reform in many generations.

We call it the FIRST STEP Act.  I sort of liked the idea of just calling it “Criminal Justice Reform.”  But FIRST STEP is good because that allows a second step and a third step.  And that’s okay because we can go there, too.  (Applause.)

But the FIRST STEP Act proved that we can achieve amazing breakthroughs when we come together as a nation and we put the interests of our citizens before the interests of any political party.

Since we passed this landmark legislation, 10 states have followed our lead and passed legislation that takes critical steps to advance criminal justice reform at the state level.  We gave it a beautiful stepping stone.  And some states have come and they’ve really taken it to a level that you’d be very proud of.  And it’s only because of what we did that they were able to do it legally and in many other ways.

So I want to say congratulations to all of the leaders here today from Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Tennessee.  Congratulations.  Great job.  Really great job.  (Applause.)

We’re also grateful to all of the mayors, city council members, and state legislators who are fighting for reform in your own communities.  I especially want to thank the South Carolina leaders.  And I have their names written down; there are so many of them.  I’ll do this before you, Henry.  Is that okay?  I want to introduce our great governor.  They love Henry.  (Applause.)  They might like Peggy more, but that’s okay.  But we’ll do this first.

State Senator — and they’ve helped so much — and President of the Senate, Harvey Peeler.  Harvey?  Where are you, Harvey?  Thank you, Harvey.  (Applause.)

State Senator Gerald Malloy.  Gerald, thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

State Senator Katrina Shealy.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  I thought you were over there.

And statehouse members: Speaker Jay Lucas.  Jay?  Thank you, Jay.  Thank you, Jay.  (Applause.)  Majority Leader Gary Simrill.  Gary, thank you.  (Applause.)  And all members: Brandon Newton, Mike Burns, Bill Chumley, Peter McCoy, Sylleste Davis, Chris Murphy, Bobby Cox, Alan Clemmons.  I want to just thank all of you for being here.  And I’m sure that we probably left some out and they’ll never speak to me again.  You see?  (Laughter.)  But all we can do is try.

I have all these names written down.  And they’ve worked very hard, and they’ve worked hard.  And I said they really have to be mentioned because they’ve been tremendous supporters of all of us.  So thank you all for being here.  We appreciate it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

With us this afternoon is a very special friend of mine.  He was with me from day one, before it was fashionable.  (Laughter.)  And he picked a winner.  It’s like going to a horse race, isn’t it?  (Laughter.)  He picked a winner.  But he had good feelings, and he was tremendously loyal friend and he’s a great governor.  And he’s become more and more popular.  I never want to see his approval rating go above mine; otherwise, we’ll have to come in and give it one slightly negative speech — (laughter) — about Henry McMaster.  Thank you, Henry.  (Applause.)

And also, please, Peggy McMaster, First Lady.  Congratulations on a job well done.  Thank you, Peggy.  She has been by his side — I’ll tell you.  Thank you very much, both.  Great job you’re doing, too, as governor.

Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette.  Pamela, thank you.  Pamela Evette, thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.

And Alan Wilson is here someplace.  Alan?  Alan?  Thank you, Alan.  Great job, Alan.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.

Two friends of mine that are warriors — really, warriors.  Two great people.  And you have them both.  They’re senators and they fight.  And somebody just said, Lindsey, we’re up to 50 already and we — I haven’t even made a phone call.  Fifty.  Fifty out of fifty-three.  And they said, “If you get to 40, that’s pretty good, if you haven’t done anything.”  But we’re up to 50.  I don’t know if you’ve heard that, Lindsey.  Did you hear that?  And Tim said that was going to happen.

But two really great men.  They love your state and they love the people of this country.  They love our country.  Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott.  Could you please — (applause).  Thank you, fellas.  Thank you.

All I can say is, thank goodness they’re on my side — (laughter) — because if they weren’t, I’d have big trouble, right?  They’re warriors.  They really are.  They’ve done so many different things: tax cuts and all of the things we’ve done for our military, and Choice.  Military Choice.  They were right in there.  And, Tim and Lindsey, you never let the people down.  Forget about me; you never let the people down.  Thank you very much.  Great job.  (Applause.)

And Representative Ralph Norman.  I want to just mention he’s been a friend of mine, he’s been a warrior.  (Applause.)  Very popular guy.

But we learned a lot, because Ralph had one election.  “He was so far ahead that everybody said, “Hey let’s not vote; he’s going to win too easily.”  We can never let that happened again, because he — he won.  But it was a little closer than we thought.  Everybody stayed home.  We can never let that happen.  So we always have to pretend we’re one point behind, right?  But he is a fantastic man and he’s been incredible, and he’s really a popular person in South Carolina.

And Joe Wilson.  Joe?  Joe, thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Joe.  Joe is an incredible guy.  Been with us from day one, I think, Joe.  Right?  Day one.  And he loves this state and he loves our country.  Thank you very much, Joe.  Great job.  Appreciate it.

And Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.  Steve, thank you very much.  Steve.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you, Steve.  Great job.

Thanks also to my good friends, Pastor Darrell Scott and Kareem Lanier.  Where is Darrell?  You talk about a warrior — this guy.  (Applause.)  I met him a long time ago.  He was defending me on CNN — low-ratings CNN.  And — (laughter) — and he was brutal.  You know, I said, “He’s a pastor.  He’s a man of the cloth.  And, boy, can he go at it.”  (Laughter.)  So you have the two — you have that little dichotomy, but he never let it bother him.  And what he has done in defending us, I will never, ever forget it.  Darrell Scott has been incredible.  Both of them.

But when I saw Darrell on television, I said, “You have to get — we have to find out who that man is.  He’s fantastic.”  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you both.  Thank you, Darrell.  (Applause.)

And I always thought he was a very young guy.  How many years are you married to your great wife?

MR. SCOTT:  Only 38.

THE PRESIDENT:  I said, “How many years are you married?”  I thought he was like 40 years old.  (Laughter.)  He said, “We’re having our anniversary.”  He’s got an incredible wife.  “Oh, how many years?”  “Thirty-eight years.”  I said, “You got to be kidding me.”  Thirty-eight, right?  Thirty-eight.  That’s great.  Congratulations, Darrell.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Great friend of mine.

And we’re also joined by several outstanding members of my administration — people that have really made a difference: Secretary of HUD Ben Carson.  (Applause.)

A man that has had more impact on investment in various cities and inner cities and people that really need help — an incredible, inspirational man; an unbelievable athlete; and somebody that’s done a job that — we can’t even believe what a great job he’s done, because opportunity — you know, I don’t know if you go see what’s happening with Opportunity Zones; I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it.  And I have to give Tim Scott a lot of credit for that.  Maybe all of it.  (Applause.)

You know, I go around and I talk about Tim Scott where they’re not that familiar.  And I say, “Yeah, there’s a senator from South Carolina.”  I could be in the other parts of the country.  “Tim Scott.”  And they come to me, “Why did you mention Tim Scott?  Why didn’t you take more credit?”  I said, “Because, honestly, it was his idea.”  We got it done together, but it was.

And, Tim, I don’t think we could have picked a better person than Scott Turner to make our vision come true.  It’s the hottest thing there is.  I don’t think there’s been anything like it.  (Applause.)  So, fantastic job.  What a job.

Johnathan Holifield, who’s with me, and Ja’Ron Smith, who’s with me and been with me for a long time.  I want to thank you both.  I know Ja’Ron was back here.  (Applause.)  Where is Ja’Ron?  He was back here.  There he is.  He never wants credit.  You know, usually he’ll stay back there and I don’t want you ever to be — I want you to be right where you should be.  But you are — what a job you guys have done.  Thank you very much.

And a very special thanks to someone who worked tirelessly to get this law passed.  You know, I’ve always said — I think I was telling Tim before, and I pulled Lindsey aside.  I said, “You know, I think he’s a liberal.  He could be a liberal.”  (Laughter.)  Jared Kushner.  He could be a liberal.  (Applause.)  He wanted to get that through.  He came to me.  I said, “Jared, okay.  Okay.  Just don’t ever come again.  Please, just leave me alone.”  (Laughter.)  And we got it done.  Right, Jared?

We called a couple of folks that people didn’t think would come along and they were incredible once they understood what we were doing.  And it’s really — you know, it’s really worked out.  It’s been a while now, right?  It’s been a while.  And it’s really worked out.  We’ve had tremendous support, and a lot of people are very happy.

I want to extend my warmest condolences to the family and many friends of Elijah Cummings, who are celebrating his life today in Baltimore.  Not long ago, I met with Elijah in the Oval Office, and I saw the passion he had with me for lowering prescription drug prices.  He had a very strong passion for that.

We’re going to get it done.  I will tell you, we are absolutely getting it done.  But I was with Elijah and I have rarely seen anybody want to do something like that.  And we’re going to have that done.  Prescription prices are coming down.  We’re the first year in 50 years where they have actually come down.  And if we could get support on the other side, we’ll get those prices so far lower than they are right now, you won’t even believe it.  I think people are going to be very surprised.

So I want to give my warmest respects.  Please.  (Applause.)

Every African American leader here today — we have lot of great leaders from all parts of our country — is very proud of a noble heritage.  Throughout our history, African Americans have strengthened, uplifted, sustained, defended, and inspired the United States of America.

At the founding of our republic, African American heroes gave their lives for the cause of independence.  In the next century, leaders like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass escaped the evil of slavery and fought for the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: that we are all created equal and that our rights come from God.  (Applause.)  True.

In the 20th century, African American churches, civic organizations, and HBCUs, like this one — this great one that we have right here.  It’s a beauty, isn’t it?  A nice auditorium too, by the way, I have to say.  I go to a lot of places.  This is one of the nicer ones.  Do you mind if we come back?  (Laughter.)  But you helped lead the righteous struggle to secure civil rights.

African Americans have given their blood, sweat, and tears for this nation.  You are entitled to a government that protects your families, your jobs, your safety, and that always puts American citizens first.  So true.  So true.  (Applause.)

From the beginning, my vow has been to stand up for those who have been forgotten, neglected, overlooked, and ignored.  And we stand up loudly and clearly in our nation’s capital.

My goal has been to give a voice to the voiceless and to make Washington see and hear those who have been made to feel silent and to feel invisible.

Although criminal justice reform was not a theme of my campaign initially, when I came into office, I heard from countless leaders and listened to many diverse points of view, including to our great church leaders and religious leaders.  Everyone from governors to law enforcement officers, faith-based ministries.  They call came to see me — asked me to fight on behalf of this forgotten community.

I knew criminal justice reform was not about politics.  I’m, to this day, not sure that what I did was a popular thing or an unpopular thing, but I know it was the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

Last year, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West, they came to see me.  And really good people.  They really are.  And they told me the story of a woman named Alice Johnson.  Alice had already served 22 years for a first-time, non-violent drug offense.  And she was going to be in prison for, it looked like, at least another 28 years.  That’s her whole life.  During her time in prison, Alice became a minister and mentored fellow inmates.  She’s an incredible woman.  She took responsibility for her actions, but her sentence was simply not proportionate to her crime.  And that’s why I commuted Alice’s sentence.

And I’ll never forget the scene: She came out of prison, and there were her children, all grown up: big, strong guys; beautiful — really beautiful, incredible women with such love in their hearts.  And they embraced and they kissed and they hugged and they cried outside of this big, monstrous prison.

It was a scene that played all over our country, and it was a scene that I don’t think anybody has any idea the impact of what that had on a lot of people that don’t maybe think like we do.  It had an incredible impact.  It was a beautiful thing to see.  There was so much love.  That was true love.  And that was a truly happy family.  And that was something they never expected.  Twenty-eight more years.

I knew in that moment that I made the right decision.  And we’re all delighted that Alice is with us.  She’s been such an incredible representative.  In fact, sometime I’m going to sit her down and ask what is it that you do?  Please explain it to me, Alice, because I’d like to have a little bit of what you have.  (Laughter.)  But she has been — she’s got an incredible warmth and passion.  And she really is a very special person.  I’ve gotten to know her.

So, Alice, please come up and say a few words.  Alice, thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, darling.

MS. JOHNSON:  I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that I’d be standing before such a group as this.  What an honor.

Being incarcerated, separated from my family for 22 years — almost 22 years — was one of the hardest challenges of my life.  When one person goes to prison, it impacts not only that person, but their family, their communities, their society.  For generations, we are impacted.  Criminal justice reform is not a partisan issue.  We are human beings.

I represent, as you see my face here, see the faces of the ones that you will never see unless we come together; unless we come together to act to cause other families to be reunited the way that I was reunited with my family.  It was only by the grace of God that our President’s heart was touched by my story and signed papers to commute my sentence.

Kim — (applause) — and I want to thank all of you for the warm reception that I have received since I came home.  I think that my story touched so many who saw it, who read about it, who heard about it, because we are just regular people.  When I came home, I didn’t come home as an ex-felon, I came home as a returning citizen.  (Applause.)

So I just want to say thank you again for all of the work that is being done.  I thank all of our legislators who have come together and put aside all of their political differences to work on this very important issue, because this truly has become a movement and it is one that we as returning citizens would not allow you to forget those who have been left behind.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Fantastic.  Thank you, darling.  I’m proud of you.

Thank you, Alice.  And Alice’s story not only touched my heart, but it showed me that significant disparities and injustices can exist in the criminal justice system.  And I actually went to Alice and I said, “Alice, you were in a prison for 22 years.  You got to know a lot of people in that prison.  How many people do you have in that were — there’s only one Alice, right? — but people like you.  People that are there for so many years for something that, really, it’s time to come out?”  And I said, “Because I want their names.”  And she knows.  Right?  She knows the ones.  She knows the ones that we’re talking about.  Some great people are there.

And so we’re going to work on that, right?  You’re going to give me a big list and we’re going to do — we’re going to do some good things.  Okay?  (Applause.)  She goes, “Hmm, probably.”  Thank you, Alice.  Great job.

The more people I spoke with, the more clear it became that the system could be deeply unfair, contributing to a tragic cycle of poverty and crime and incarceration.

To redress this unfairness, the FIRST STEP Act made transformative changes.  We rolled back the unjust provisions of the 1994 Clinton crime law — (applause) — which disproportionately harmed the African American community.  You know that.  I remember very well what happened.

Here with us today is one of the Americans who changed her life and was recently released under the FIRST STEP Act: Tanesha Bannister.  And please, Tanesha, come up and tell us your story.  Thank you very much.  Please.  (Applause.)

MS. BANNISTER:  As the President of the United States says, my name is Tanesha Bannister.  I was released, after doing sixteen and a half years, under the FIRST STEP Act.  And it was because of that act that I was able to reunite with my family.  I’m joined here today by my son, Abel.  He’s somewhere in the crowd.  There.  (Applause.)

I want to thank all the political leaders and the organizations that helped push this act — organizations like Cut50 that led this act to free not only just me, but thousand of others.  I want to thank all the political leaders that crossed party lines and stepped out of their comfort zone to make this happen.

So many, like myself, have been displaced in the criminal justice system for so long.  But I stand here today to say: Because of the FIRST STEP Act, we’re able to move towards the second step.

I want to thank the President for giving me another lease on life.  If it wasn’t for you, Mr. President, I’ll still be serving five years in prison.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  That’s good.  That’s good.

MS. BANNISTER:  And I’ll be forever grateful for that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

MS. BANNISTER:  I just want society to know that this is one bright spot that we can stand on that’s not an issue that has to be forgotten about.  It’s one that has been focused on by not only just the political leaders, but the organizations that fight, that (inaudible) to Washington.  That was our voice when we didn’t have a voice to be heard.

And I just want to say “thank you.”  I want to say that, in order to take the first step, you have to be willing to do things that you’re not comfortable with.  You might — you don’t have to be willing to have conversations that you’re not willing to have.

For decades, the criminal justice conversation has been a hard conversation to have.  Almost non-existent.  It was all about the political leaders thinking about who can be tough on crime, who can lock up the most and throw away the key.  It dehumanized.  But I’m standing here today saying: This is what a second chance looks like.  (Applause.)

I’m determined not to let my past define my future, but to continue to move forward day by day, step by step, and not forget about the ones that are left behind.  There’s still work to do.  But what I can say is, on this day, a change has been made, and we’ll looking forward to things to come in the near future.

Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you, Benedict College, for having me.  Thank all the political leaders and organizations that fought for not just myself but others like me.

FIRST STEP Act not only freed thousand of people, but it helped rehabilitate us, to have us ready to integrate back into society and live a comfortable life.

And I just want to say thank you again.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, darling.  Alice, when is she running for office, please?  I want to back her.  We have to back her, right?  That was not a written speech, folks.  That was delivered from the heart.  That was incredible.

Tanesha, do you mind if I take a couple of the lines you just gave and use them in my future speeches, please?  (Laughter.)

And, Tanesha, like Alice, I want you to go give me some recommendations of people that you lived with for many years that you know are good people, that are in there for a long period of time.  I want you to give me a list of names, okay?  Because I know — give me only the right ones.  You know the — (applause) — you got a tough couple of bad ones in there too, Tanesha, right?  And that’s okay, too.  But give me the right ones, the two of you, and as soon as you can.  Okay?  Because you know some great people that are going to be there for many, many years, Alice.  Right?  And you’re going to give me some names, all right?  Thank you both.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Incredible.  Thank you both.

To ease former inmates’ return to society, the single-most important action we can take is to help them find a good job.

As a result of our tax cuts, our regulatory cuts, and pro-American trade and, you know, we’re putting America first — I think everyone likes that very much — the energy reforms — our economy is booming.  It’s booming like never before.  Nothing better for former prisoners that are coming home to look for a job when there’s very low unemployment.  And that’s what we have right now.

Because of this, the tight labor market, employers are now recruiting Americans who have been on the sidelines for far too long, including those with criminal records.  And they’re doing a phenomenal job.  They come out, and they’re being hired.  And I’ve had many people tell me — people that are doing the hiring — saying these people are unbelievable.  They never got a chance before.  So we are being helped by — they call it the “Trump economy,” but a great economy.  We’re being helped by a great economy.

And perhaps our economy is the best criminal justice reform of all, because when people can get a job, earn a paycheck, and find purpose in their work, and especially when they are coming out of prison, it’s an incredible thing.  (Applause.)  It’s really an incredible thing.

And we’re setting records also.  When they come out, they’re not going back, in many cases.  Statistically much, much better.  That’s because they get a job and they like it.  They love it.  But before, they were never getting that job and bad things were happening.

For years, applicants with criminal records were dismissed out of hand, just automatically: “Nope. We’re not interested.”  And even if they were qualified, and if you thought they were reformed, they couldn’t get work.

My administration is working vigorously to remove barriers to re-entry and to encourage second-chance hiring.  And we’re really doing a great job.  When we say “Hire American,” we mean all Americans.  Every single American.  That’s what we want.

Instead of hiring low-wage labor from overseas, we’re asking companies to hire American citizens, including former prisoners who have been reformed.  America is stronger, and our society is brighter, when everyone can contribute, participate, and join in our national revival.  And that’s what it is.  We have a national revival going on like you haven’t seen in a long time.

Our two great senators, Tim and Lindsey, have been so helpful.  I can’t even tell you how helpful.

Here with us today is Jerome Brown, who served 11 years in prison and now is a master barber.  Oh, good.  I can have my hair properly cut.  (Laughter.)  Where is he?  Lindsey, do you have a scissor on you, by any chance? (Laughter.)  Finally, I can get a good haircut.  I’ve been criticized for a long time.

Now, it’s — and doing really well.  He has more than 500 clients.  And, Jerome, I’d love you to come up and say a few words.  But perhaps more importantly, check out my hair.  See what you can do for me.  (Laughter and applause.)  Thank you, Jerome.

MR. BROWN:  First, I would just like to say thank you to the President for giving everybody a chance.  Because, a lot of times, there are people in prison, and you don’t really know, like, their goals or, you know, what they want in life unless they have a chance.

I was kind of fortunate.  When I walked through the doors of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I had a goal in mind.  And my goal was to educate myself, and to read and to help my entire 11 years.  So, during that time, I made curriculums.  I started a program called, “Criminal and Addictive Thinking.”  I had barber classes.  And I was mentoring guys that couldn’t read or write.  I would help them.  Anything I can do to help somebody, because helping them helped me.

And it couldn’t have been done without support neither.  So, support from my family and my wife Keisha (ph).  We’ve been married 24 years.  The staff in the BOP.

And now that I’m looking at the FIRST STEP Act, the President is also giving a lot of guys and women support again.  Because without the support, they don’t have the incentive to do things positive for their life and to make a change.  So, for that, Mr. President, I thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Jerome.  You’re so beautiful.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

MR. BROWN:  My goal now is just to mentor people as much as I can.  I mentor guys now that still come home.  I try to show them the right way, not to give up, because a lot of people give up easily just because of a criminal record.  And they just think that’s the easy way out, just to say, “Oh, I have a record.  They’re not going to hire me anyway.”

One quick example: When I was in prison, I had to renew my barber’s license.  And for five years straight, New York state denied me because of moral turpitude — because of my conviction.  Every year, I say, I don’t care.  I’m just going to spend $40 every year.  And if they deny me, I’m just going to do it every day until I get out.  And eventually, they approved it.

And I had letters from staff and everybody that gave me support.  So it’s like — you can never give up.  You know, like I said, the support right now from the FIRST STEP Act, I think it’s going to help a lot of men.  There’s still a lot of good men left in there, and women.

So, my motto was just, you know: To help one person in any way is to help secure the future everywhere.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Jerome.  Fantastic job.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Jerome.  Incredible job.

On criminal justice reform, trade, the economy, and so much else, our America First Agenda is focused on expanding opportunity for citizens of every race, religion, color, and creed.

For decades, politicians of both parties put their own interests ahead of your interests, and put the interests of foreign nations ahead of the interest of our nation.

Our leaders spent $8 trillion on wars in the Middle East, but they allowed our great cities to fall into tragic decay and disrepair.  For the cost of one year of war in the Middle East, we could have given scholarships to every child at every inner city school in America and had tremendous numbers of dollars left over.  Politicians drained America’s wealth policing ancient tribal conflicts overseas, while leaving generations of African American children trapped in failing government schools and in failing inner cities.

The same Washington establishment enacted ruinous trade policies that shuttered our factories and shipped our jobs very far away to other countries.  More than half a million African Americans lost good-paying manufacturing jobs after the twin disasters of NAFTA and China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization.  That was a bad day.

At the same time, lawmakers and corporations joined forces to push immigration policies that hurt working-class Americans of all backgrounds.  Many politicians fight harder in Congress for illegal immigrants than they do for United States citizens.   (Applause.)

My administration will always put American communities first.  On issue after issue, politicians raked in cash from special interests while selling out our nation’s workers and our nation’s great families.

Under this administration, the great betrayal of the American worker is over.  After years of rebuilding — (applause) — thank you.  After years of rebuilding foreign countries, we are finally rebuilding our country, renewing our cities, and securing our neighborhoods, and protecting our own forgotten communities.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Make America great!

THE PRESIDENT:  All my life — that’s right.  Make America great.  (Laughter.)  I couldn’t have said it better than you did.  Thank you.  Thank you, darling.

All my life, I’ve been committed to advancing fairness and opportunity for the African American community.  And today, I am here before you with the empty — and we have to say, we’ve had so many people with empty political rhetoric.  We’re doing the opposite.  We’re acting, not talking.  People have talked.  (Applause.)  They’ve talked.  They’ve talked a lot and they’ve got nothing done.  And we’re talking about for a century.  We’re talking about for over a hundred years it’s been all talk by a certain group of politicians and no action.

Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham — they’ve done more in the last couple of years than some of our, I hate to call them opponents, but I guess that’s what they are, unfortunately.  But they have done more than they have in a hundred years.

I am here to report on real actions that we’ve taken, real promises that we’ve kept, and real results that we’ve delivered.

Since the election, the unemployment rates for African American, Hispanic American, and Asian Americans have achieved all-time, historic — in the history of our country — lows.  Today we have more working — (applause) — today we have people working at a level and a number, in the history of country.  we’ve never had so many people working before.  Almost 160 million people.  Never come close.

African American youth unemployment — so important — a number that, three years ago, when I was running, was through the roof.  It was, you know, just incredible.  It recently reached the lowest rate ever recorded.  Youth unemployment.  So important.

African American poverty rate has reached its lowest level ever recorded in the history of our country.  (Applause.)

So, when I’m up on the debate stage with one of these characters, whoever it may be — (laughter) — and I rattle off a couple of those stats, I don’t know how they’re going to beat me.  They’re going to have to be awfully good.  They’re going to have to be awfully good.

More than 2 million Americans have been raised out of poverty — taken out of poverty, lifted out of poverty.  For the first time on record, most new hires of prime working age are minorities and women.  That’s the first time in the history of our country.  (Applause.)  Minorities and women.

Wages are rising fast.  And they are rising twice as fast for the lowest-income workers than they are for the high-wage earners.  Proportionately, they’re doing the best of all.  Women — the best year for employment in 71 years.  And soon, I think, it will be historic.  It will be “in history.”  (Applause.)  That’s a good number.

A recent analysis found that middle class income has risen by $5,000.  But add to that — that’s median household income — add to that $2,000 from the tax cuts and then $2,000 for energy, because our energy is much cheaper.  And when you look at other countries, what we’ve done with energy, we become the number-one producer anywhere in the world, by far.  And so that would be $9,000 per household.  Median income.

Think of the household median income.  Nobody has ever come close.  If you go back and you look at the Bush — eight years — it’s $400, for eight years.  You go back and you look at the Obama — eight years — it’s less than $1,000.  And with us, it’s $9,000, when you add — think of that.  And that’s for two and a half years, if they stopped at two and a half.  It’s even better now, because we’re almost up to three.  I don’t even know if you folks know that, but think of that statistic: $400 for eight years, $975 for eight years, and $9,000 for two and a half years.  I mean — (applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  I just — that just came out.  That came out in a poll — Moody’s.  And it just came out in a poll.  And you can never take this — they said I’ll win the election, practically, no matter what.  They had three different forms of win.  And they’ve been right in every year except for one.  You know what the one was?  The last one.  They got that one wrong.  (Laughter.)  Did you know that, fellas?  They got that one wrong.  They said, “We were wrong about 2016.”  They don’t even mention that I happened to be in that election.  But they said that was the only one they got wrong.  That’s okay with me.  (Laughter.)  If they’re going to get one wrong, that was the one we wanted them to get wrong, right?

But those are incredible numbers.  Those are numbers that nobody would have believed possible.  If I would have said that on the campaign trail, people would have said, “You have to be kidding.”  They would have said — the fake news said, “You have to be kidding.”  (Laughter.)  “He’s not telling the truth, ladies and gentlemen.”  Well, it turned out that’s far more than we even anticipated.

Through our Pledge to American Workers, more than 360 companies have committed to providing over 14 million training jobs and career opportunities for the American worker.  My daughter, Ivanka, worked so hard on that.  That’s her love.  It’s her passion.  It’s incredible.

She came to me at the beginning of the administration, and she said, “I want to help people get jobs, Dad.  But they have to be trained.”  She was a great student.  She’s a great person.  And she said, “But they have to be trained.”  I said, “What’s your goal?”  She said, “500,000 jobs.”  She just hit 14 million.  Can you be- — I said, “That’s Ivanka.”  (Applause.)  You know, that’s Ivanka.  Fourteen million jobs.  (Applause.)

It’s an incredible — it’s one of the reasons, I think, that our employment numbers are so good.  I hope that you will judge my administration based on the tremendous amount that we’ve achieved — not talking, but achieving.

We’ve made — it’s — it’s really something.  (Applause.)  It’s really something.  And the support that you’ve given is incredible.

We’ve made our nation stronger than ever before.  And I’m here to tell you that we’re just getting started.  And we’re just getting started for the African American community too.  Please remember that.  And I will say this, and I really say this with great confidence: The best is yet to come.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Now, don’t say, “Sixteen more years,” because you’ll drive them crazy.  (Laughter.)  They’re afraid.  They said, “You know, he’s going to win.”  They said — one of these characters said, “You know, he’s going to win, don’t you?  You know, he’s going to win.”  “Well, no, we’re going to fight.”  “He’s going to win and then he’s never getting out.  He’ll be here for another four, and then another four, and then another.  We’re never going to get him out.”

So when we say “four more years,” sometimes say “16 more years”.  It drives them crazy.  (Laughter.)  And we like doing that, don’t we?

But as we make tremendous strides to deliver greater economic promise to all our citizens, we’ll never let up on our efforts to ensure that our justice system is fair for every single American.

And I have my own experience, you know that.  You see what’s going on with the witch hunt.  It’s a terrible thing that’s going on in our country.  No crimes there.  It’s an investigation in search of a crime.  It’s been going on for longer than I’m in office.  (Laughter.)  It’s true.  It happened before I even got here with — remember? — the insurance policy. Strzok and Page, the lovers, the great lovers.  (Laughter.)  The two great lovers, they talked about the insurance policy, right?  That, “She’s going to win, but just in case she doesn’t, we have an insurance policy.”  That was long before Mueller, and that whole deal.

We had 18 angry Democrats that hated Trump, looking at me.  Spent $45 million, and they found nothing.  I think I could do that with almost everyone in the room, except maybe your two senators.  I could never find a — that’s why they’re senators, because they’re so clean, right?

But, in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty.  And we don’t have investigations in search of that crime.  It’s a terrible thing.  It hurts people very badly and it divides the country.

Innocent people, and those surrounding innocent people, were being destroyed and humiliated.  We have so many people that have been hurt, destroyed, and humiliated in ways that we’ve never seen before in the history of our country.  And we’re working to put an end — for everybody — to horrible injustice and the horrible practices that we’ve seen.  It’s just — not only here, it’s — it’s in other places.  It’s in some pretty high places.

Justice, fairness, and due process are core tenets of our democracy.  These are timeless principles I will faithfully uphold as President.  They’re principles Republicans stand for and, historically, Democrats have stood for in the past.  They used to stand for them.  If this were a Democrat, they would never allow this to happen.  They would never, ever allow this to happen.

And I’ll tell you, Tim Scott made the finest statement yesterday.  He said, “The President is innocent.  Forget about due process.  He’s innocent.”  And I won’t forget that statement.

We have a — (applause) — we have to remember — a big factor, and I say it in more and more of my speeches, because Honest Abe was something pretty special.  Abraham Lincoln, he was a Republican, a President revered for what he did to preserve our nation and union and to abolish slavery.  Abe Lincoln was a Republican.  A lot of people forget that.  Fellas, I think we have to start bringing that up a little bit, okay?  (Applause.)  People forget that.  They don’t know that.  They don’t assume it, actually.

We’re committed to upholding his legacy and the sacred principle that all people are entitled to live in freedom and dignity.  I’m talking about Lincoln more and more, because the Democratic policies have let African Americans down and taken them for granted.  And they have.  They’ve taken African American communities for granted.  And I promise you that Republicans will never, ever do that.  We’re going to keep fighting for you and we’re fighting hard, and we’re really having an impact.  (Applause.)  And you’re having an impact on elections now.  And you should never let that happen, but they have taken advantage.

I will always fight against abuses of power from any source.  And I will always champion the right to due process, the right to a fair trial, the right to good legal representation for every American, regardless of race, background, position, right?  (Applause.)  It’s a big thing, legal representation.  A lot of people get in a lot of trouble because they have the wrong representation.  And they say, “Why I didn’t have somebody that knew what he was doing or tried or was fair?”

This is my promise to each and every one of you: I’m hearing that more and more African Americans are supporting our Republican policy agenda because they see the results that we’re delivering.  (Applause.)

You know, during the campaign, I read a long list of things.  It was a speech, regular speech.  Long list.  Highest crime rate: African American.  Highest crime rate.  Worst housing situation.  Lived in the worst areas.  Everything was bad.  Worst education.  There were like 10 — And I’m going over 10 things, over and over and over.  Highest rate of incarceration.  And this is all African American.

And I said to myself — probably I shouldn’t say it, but I’m going to say, “Vote for me.  What the hell do you have to lose?”  Do you remember that?  (Applause.)  “What the hell do you have to lose?”  I said it.  (Applause.)

By the way, I hate to say this to you, but my poll numbers with African Americans, Tim, went like a rocket ship.  Okay?  My people said, “I don’t know if that was good to say.”  I said, “Look, it’s the truth.  What the hell do you have to lose?”  And you know what?  I said it, and sometimes I take the word “hell” out because the fake news would say, “He used a horrible word. The word ‘hell’ was a horrible…”  I said, “I’ve heard worse than that.”  (Laughter.)  But it was true.

And look at what we’ve done in less than three years.  I mean, look at the progress you’ve made.  Everything is historic, meaning it’s never happened in the history of our country, what we’ve done.  And we’re very proud of it.

And, you know, it’s an incredible, talented, smart, wonderful, warm — look at the people that came up today; warm group of people.  And I have so many friends.  They’re great, great, and I am so honored.  I just am so honored.  And, Jerome, I’m putting you in the same category with these two incredible women.  If you have some people in there that you’ve been with for a long period of time, you’re going to give me some names.  I only want the right names, Jerome.  Okay?  (Laughter.)  I only want the right ones.

But I think it’s a tremendous thing we can do.  We can do a lot of great things from — it’s called the power of the White House.  We can do some incredible things.  And we want to only do the right things.  But these are three unbelievable representatives.  And there are so many more out there that we don’t know about.  We want to find out who they are so we can help them out too.  Jared, I’ll put you in charge of that little project.  That’s something he’d like to do very much, right?  (Applause.)

So as part of our agenda to lift up forgotten Americans, we are investing in distressed communities.  Under the crucial provision — a very, very important provision of our new tax law — America’s governors have designated nearly 9,000 communities as the Opportunity Zones that we just discussed, including this very neighborhood surrounding Benedict College.  And you see what’s happening even just around your college and in your college.

To bring back prosperity, we slashed taxes on new investment in these areas.  And people are investing in these areas that would have never, ever been investing here.  And in some cases, they’re rich, and in some cases, they’re not so rich, but the money is flowing into your community.  Nine thousand different places.

And I directed every member of my Cabinet to support Opportunities Zones in every possible way.  And leading these efforts is Secretary Ben Carson, along with executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, Scott Turner.  Great job.  Mick Mulvaney is here someplace.  Where’s Mick?  He’s here someplace.  Where is Mick?  (Applause.)  And a lot of people are here, a lot of people that have done an incredible job for this community and for the country.

Within my first weeks in office, I also signed an executive order to support historically black colleges and universities — (applause) — by moving federal HBCU initiative to the White House, where it belongs.  It’s now in the White House.

Over the past two years, we have increased federal funding for HBCUs by a record 13 percent.  Check out the last administration.  See what they did for you.  Not too much.  Not too much.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Nothing.

THE PRESIDENT:  You said it: “Nothing.”  Not much.  Check it out.  I don’t want to get into this.  I’ll get myself in trouble.  But I want you to check it out yourself.

My administration will always treasure and protect HBCUs, like Benedict College.  It’s very important.  It’s very important.  The story of this institution reminds us all how African American leaders have helped America stand for what is just, noble, right, and true.

Nearly 150 years ago, Benedict College began with 10 students and one great Baptist minister.  Their first classes took place in a former plantation mansion.  In the 1930s, Benedict students participated in one of the first civil rights campaigns in South Carolina.  From the halls of this campus came American pastors and poets, advocates and athletes, innovators and entrepreneurs.  In their courage, their vision, their determination, their wisdom, and their grace, they lifted up the sights of our nation and called America to greatness.  They have done an incredible job.  This has been an incredible institution.  (Applause.)

The extraordinary legacy of generations of African American patriots shows us that the heart and spirit and soul of our nation is always found in our people.  You are the source of America’s strength, the captains of America’s destiny, and the authors of America’s future.

Now, after decades of bitter disappointments and betrayals from Washington — and you have had the most bitter disappointments, more than anyone — my administration is making a decisive break with the failures of the past.  We are taking on the entrenched interests, the corrupt power structures, and the rigged systems of the old status quo.

With confidence in our vision, we are putting this nation on a better and brighter path for you, for your families, and for all of our great citizens.  We’re keeping our promises.  We’re solving problems, righting wrongs, and boldly confronting injustices, wherever and whenever we find them.

Through it all, we are honoring our allegiance to the hardworking men and women whose sweat and sacrifice make our country run.

Together, we are reaffirming the sacred bonds of loyalty and love that unite us together as citizens and patriots and as Americans.  We are defending freedom and justice and equality for every man, woman, and child all across our nation.  We are fighting to bring opportunity, dignity, and hope to every block, every neighborhood, and every city and town all throughout this magnificent land.

Above all, we are putting our faith in the greatness of our people, the grace of our God, and the glorious power of redemption.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless America.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END

3:40 P.M. EDT