PRESIDENT Obama delivered a stirring speech last week on the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. What he said drew a lot of attention, and was worth taking to heart.
Prior to the speech, two questions involving the issue of race lingered in the Obama White House. The first was whether his policies as the first black president would be different from those of his 43 white predecessors. The second was whether Mr. Obama would choose to state some home truths to black Americans that a white president might hesitate to express.
The speech in New York left the answer to the first question unclear and the answer to the second question a definite "yes."
Mr. Obama recounted the advancements attained by African-Americans in the NAACP's first century and paid tribute to great figures of the U.S. civil rights movement.
He acknowledged that black Americans still were disproportionately stung by unemployment, lack of health care, incarceration, and AIDS infection, and he cited federal programs that seek to diminish these "structural inequalities."
Calling a world-class education the road out of these predicaments, the President nonetheless described the "achievement gap" between blacks and whites. He said the gap can be narrowed by money and reform, but that black families had to preach excellence at home.
Citing his mother's role in his own success, Mr. Obama said parental support and stronger families were vital to children's achievement. "No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands - you cannot forget that," he said. "That's what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. No excuses."
He elaborated, "Our kids can't all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne," referring to basketball star LeBron James and rapper Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr. "I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers - doctors and teachers - not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be the president of the United States of America."
That's sage advice to any American household, regardless of the family's color.
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