6:44 P.M. EST
AUDIENCE: Trump! Trump! Trump!
THE PRESIDENT: Wow. Thank you very much. Wow, what a good group this is. This is the future. This is the future. (Applause.) True. That’s true.
The First Lady and I are thrilled to host so many friends, and pastors, and government leaders. And our stage is being filled up with a bunch of winners like you. Because I’ve known you for a long time, Bob, and I want to thank you very much. A special — a special guy, a special friend for a long time. To be at the White House to celebrate African American History Month. (Applause.) Do you like the White House? Right?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah!
THE PRESIDENT: This is the place. Right? You know that.
We’re also grateful to be joined by our wonderful Vice President and Second Lady, Mike and Karen Pence. Hi, Mike. Hi, Karen. (Applause.) Mike, come on over here. Come on over here. Get up here, Mike. Come on, Karen. What a job they do.
Today, we are here to honor the extraordinary contributions of African Americans to every aspect of American life, history, and culture. From the earliest days of this nation, African American leaders, pioneers, and visionaries have uplifted and inspired our country in art, in science, literature, law, film, politics, business, and every arena of national life. The depth and glory of these contributions are beyond measure. You know it. I know it. And everybody knows it.
We especially pay tribute to the African American heroes who have sacrificed in the name of freedom, equality, and dignity for all Americans. (Applause.) Thank you.
Every citizen alive today, and generations yet unborn, are forever in debt of the brave souls who stared down injustice and championed the eternal cause of civil rights. (Applause.)
We’re joined for tonight’s ceremony by many distinguished guests, including Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Where is Jerome? Jerome. Get up here, Jerome. (Applause.) Come on, Jerome. Thank you very much. Hi, Jerome. It’s been a little while, huh? Thank you very much. Great job you’re doing.
I’d also like to thank all of the members of my Cabinet who are in attendance. We have a lot of them here tonight, and I want to thank you very much for being here. You’re doing a great job. You just take a look at our economy — stronger than it’s ever been before. (Applause.)
And, by the way, as you’ve been hearing me say: African American unemployment is at an all-time low. Historic low. (Applause.) In the history of our country, it’s never been better. So that’s a great thing.
Thank you all, as well, to the young African American activists who are here today. You are really and truly the leaders of the future. (Applause.) And get in there and go get them.
Since the beginning of our republic, African Americans have given their heart, their love, and their very lives to the pursuit — and you know this better than anybody; you have worked so hard. I guess when you get right down to it, we’re all working very hard — but the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
During the Revolutionary War, African American soldiers fought at the battle of Yorktown and helped our nation gain independence.
In the next century, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and countless others risked everything to end the evil of slavery and secure the sacred blessings of freedom. (Applause.)
And here we are, all together in the White House. This is a great thing. Right? This is a great thing. And this is a very, very special place.
A century later, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and the immortal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged our nation to fulfill its founding promise that we are all created equal by God. (Applause.)
In every moment of our history, African Americans have called our nation to greatness. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jackie Robinson. How good was Jackie Robinson? (Applause.) How good was Jackie? As a baseball fan, Jackie was special. He had to be special because that was not an easy journey for Jackie. He was a special man. His courage on the field and off the field stands as an everlasting monument to the triumph of the human spirit.
African American scientists, artists, musicians, educators, faith leaders, and countless others have lifted our nation to absolutely incredible heights.
Today, we thank God for all of the blessings the African American community continues to give our nation, and we pledge our resolve to expand opportunity for Americans of every race, religion, color, and creed. (Applause.)
Since my election, we have created 5.3 million new jobs. (Applause.) People thought that was — and I tell you, you know, I’m very proud of it being the lowest ever in the history for African Americans. But today, right now, we have the most people working in the history of our nation. Almost 160 million people. We’ve never had that many people working. (Applause.) Right?
Tell me: How do they beat us on the debate stand when we say we have the best unemployment numbers ever? Right? The best unemployment numbers ever and the most people working ever. The best economy perhaps that we’ve ever had. We got a lot of things going on here. Very good things. And we cut your taxes, by the way. And we cut your taxes. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: You’re right. (Laughs.) He said, “Don’t ever get tired, Mr. President.” (Laughter.) I better not. I better not get tired. (Laughter.)
Under my administration, the African American poverty rate has fallen to its lowest level. And if you think about that, that’s a special category. The poverty rate for African Americans is the best it’s ever been. The lowest level it’s ever achieved.
Nearly one million additional African Americans have found new jobs. As a — really, and I think this — we can really attribute it to regulatory cuts or as a result of our tax cuts. The largest tax cuts in the history of our country.
More than 8,700 distressed communities are now designated as Opportunity Zones. And Mike Pence was just in South Carolina and he was talking about those incredible achievements, Karen — the incredible achievements that have been made with Tim Scott and everybody on the Opportunity Zones. (Applause.)
And we’re bringing in new investments and jobs to places that really need it the most — places that were forgotten, but they’re not forgotten with us.
Through our Pledge to American Workers, we’ve secured private-sector commitments to provide 6.5 million new jobs and training opportunities. And that also is an absolute, total record. That one is an easy one by a lot.
Just months ago, we passed groundbreaking criminal justice reform. (Applause.)
Pastor. Pastor. We have Pastor Darrell Scott. Will you come up here, Darrell? Darrell. Darrell, get up here. (Applause.) He’s always defending me on television. (Laughter.) And I’ll tell you, if you want somebody to defend you, this is about as good as you can get. I want to — he is brutal. Sometimes I say, “You’re a pastor?” You’re the toughest pastor I’ve ever — (laughter) — thank you, Darrell.
This long-awaited legislation reform — and it’s really the sentencing laws that nobody thought we could get this done. We worked with conservatives and liberals, and those in the middle. We worked with a lot of people and we got it done. Nobody thought this — you know, they’ve been trying to get this done for 25 years, but we got it done — criminal justice reform. The laws are disproportionately — as you know, they harmed African American communities, and far, far greater than anybody else. And it gives former inmates a second chance at life.
We are very proud to be joined tonight by a citizen who transformed her life while in prison and is now the first woman to be released under the FIRST STEP Act, Catherine Toney. Where’s Catherine? (Applause.)
Do you want to say something? Come on.
AUDIENCE: Catherine! Catherine! Catherine!
MS. TONEY: Yes, I just want to thank the President and everybody that worked so hard — Jared — for working so hard on this prison reform FIRST STEP Act. Because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be standing before you all today — (applause) — with my daughter and my granddaughter.
I’ve been incarcerated for 16 years, and it took the President and Jared and the CAN-DO and the Cut Five [sic], and everybody else to free me. And I’m so thankful. (Applause.) I’m so thankful to them. And I’m so thankful to God for the opportunity to be standing before you all. And thank you again, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s so nice. And I’ll tell you, as far as criminal justice reform — and other things — Jared, thank you. What a great job. (Applause.) What a great job. He doesn’t want praise. He doesn’t want praise. But it was so nice to have you come up. And, Jared, thank you. Like, you’re best friends. You probably know him a little bit, huh? (Laughter.)
MS. TONEY: Yes, I do. (Laughs.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s incredible. He’s incredible. Does so much. Thank you, Jared. That was amazing. That was a great tribute to you.
During the State of the Union Address, I also called on Congress to pass school choice. (Applause.) No child should be trapped in a failing school that stands in the way of their dreams. Every citizen, of every background, deserves a government that puts their needs first. (Applause.) Like your hat, right? (Laughs.) Like that hat.
Here with us today is an incredible leader. Some of you know him well. I do. And I know him, really, more than anything else, as an incredible leader. That’s exactly what he is. It’s Bob Woodson. Do you know Bob Woodson? (Applause.) You will. You will. Because he’s got an incredible story.
Bob joined the Air Force in the 1950s. You don’t look that old, I’ll tell you that. (Laughter.) 1950s? Really? Wow. You’re in good shape. (Laughter.) I want to talk to him later, find out what’s going on. (Laughter.)
While he was stationed in the Deep South, he confronted discrimination firsthand. He then became a Civil Rights leader, met Dr. King, and was jailed for leading a very peaceful protest. As Bob puts it, “Even when defeat was all around us, it was not in us.” That’s beautiful, right? Huh? That was just beautiful.
Over the last 50 years, Bob helped found social enterprise movements and to restore jobs, dignity, and hope within the heart of very, very distressed communities. Bob, I want to thank you very much. You are a very special man. And having you at our place in New Jersey for a little while, and you helped me so much with making a couple of our good choices. We really appreciate you being here. Thank you, Bob. (Applause.)
MR. WOODSON: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, please.
MR. WOODSON: I just want to thank God and also President Trump for turning the tables over in the temples — (laughter) — and attacking the status quo that is hostile to the interest of poor people. And I also want to bless you for your administration and the policies of Opportunity Zones and to giving low-income people an opportunity to help themselves. That’s all they want; they want an opportunity to achieve. And your administration is working with us to make that happen. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Bob. So nice.
MR. WOODSON: Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Great guy.
We’re also very proud to be joined by Clarence Henderson, who was among the first students to begin the Greensboro sit-in. You know what that is, right? In 1960, on the second day of the sit-in, Clarence was one of four students who sat at the long-segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter — very, very famous event — in Greensboro, North Carolina. He helped spark a national movement. In cities and towns all across America, students joined in the protest, and really, it was an incredible moment in the history of our country. The grave injustice of segregation was really spelled out loud and clear.
After more than 170 days of protest, the Woolworth lunch counter finally integrated. That was — doesn’t sound like such a big deal, Bob, but it was a big, big deal, right? As Clarence has said, “It doesn’t take many people to make a change. It just takes courage.” And, Clarence, you have incredible courage, and I want to thank you very much for being here. (Applause.)
MR. HENDERSON: I am delighted to be here with the President. You know, Nehemiah was told by God to build a wall. And that’s what you’re doing. (Applause.) Amen.
It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this evening and to share this great hour and great time. I can tell you right now, with the Frederick Douglass Foundation, with the state of North Carolina, and the President, and we’re still moving forward to change America and make America great again. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thanks, Clarence. So nice.
As we commemorate African American History Month, we remember the words of Dr. King. In 1964, he said, “When years have rolled past…children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization — because these humble children of God were willing to suffer [the] righteousness’ sake.”
And, you know, nobody said it better than Dr. Martin Luther King. And few people had words so beautiful as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Don’t you agree? Don’t you agree, Bob? (Applause.) He made us all look maybe not quite as good. Great man.
Today, we remember the heroic legacy of African Americans who bravely battled oppression to usher in a bright new dawn of freedom. It’s exactly what you’re doing. And you are at the forefront. You know, this is a new age. This is a very exciting time. It’s very exciting time for our country.
Our country is respected again all over the world — they are respecting — (applause) — like we haven’t been respected in many, many years, I’ll tell you. And thanks to you also, and thanks to you. Look at the progress that you’ve made. Look at those numbers that I gave you before with unemployment and all of the other numbers that we have together.
So we pledge, in the honor of our great African American community, to build a future when every American child can live in safety, dignity, liberty, and peace.
As Americans, we all share the same dreams, the same hopes, and the same magnificent destiny. We are now, and will forever be, one people, one family, and one glorious nation under God. (Applause.)
I want to thank you all. I want to God bless you. I just want to say God bless you all and God bless America. Thank you for being at the White House. (Applause.) Thank you.
7:02 P.M. EST