Successes, Failures, and Missed Opportunities of the Obama Presidency
With the peaceful exchange of power nearing as the confounding enigma that is President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office, we figure now is a good time to thoughtfully and candidly reflect on the last eight years, especially as we brace for what lies ahead.
Historians, political observers, and journalists have been reflecting on the legacy of the Obama presidency for a while. His initial election and both terms were historical in major fashion. And his place in the annals of American lore is secure.
To be sure, no one was more stoked than we here at The New Orleans Tribune in November 2008 when Barack Hussein Obama became the first Black man elected to the highest office in a country where a short 143 years earlier, enslaved Blacks were counted only as 3/5th of a person—and only that to give the South a political edge.
So yes, his election thrilled us. Quite honestly, we were downright flabbergasted. We proudly hung American flags on our office and other buildings up and down our block. We hosted a party. We produced a souvenir edition that depicted President Obama and the First Lady walking right down Esplanade Avenue. Thanks Photoshop. That image made so much sense to us. Not only had change come to America, we felt as though it had been special delivered to our doorsteps.
Candidate Obama led us in a simple, but convincing refrain along the campaign trail. With his election, we had reason to believe it. Yes We Can. For African Americans, especially, the excitement was palpable. You could see it . . . touch it . . . feel it. On Nov. 5, 2008, we certainly noticed Black folk walking taller, smiling wider.
The election of Barack Obama meant so much for so many. It was the realization of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream—a Black man being measured by his ability and character, despite the color of his skin. It was the personification of the American Dream—that hard work and dedication could take you as far as you could imagine. In that special edition, we logged the reactions of many New Orleanians from the legendary Leah Chase who said then that President Obama’s election was something that she “never thought would happen in my lifetime, but it showed that people are growing” to New Orleans’ forever first lady Sybil Morial who said then that she “shed tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of pride in my country.”
And we printed his 2008 acceptance speech in its entirety. Its opening sentences encapsulated our collective thoughts:
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
“It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen by people who waited three hours and four hours to cast their ballots, many for the first time in their lives, because they believe that this time must be different; that their voice could make that difference.”
And that was the thing about the Obama presidency. Perhaps for the first time, so many Black Americans now believed they had a voice that would be heard and that we finally had a leader who would address the needs of all Americans, especially those who have been historically ignored, marginalized and disenfranchised.
During the last eight years, we like so many others have taken pride in how President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have governed and led our nation—always with dignity, class and grace. As Michelle Obama recently advised, when the detractors, cynics and critics went low, they went high. For that alone, we thank them even if at times we secretly wished President Obama would get really angry, maybe even a bit indignant just once and put his opponents in check—stand up for himself . . . and us . . . demanding respect. The Obamas were often the target of unwarranted, unfounded disparagement and denigration that had nothing to do with policy and everything to do with hate, bigotry and vitriol. And even in the face of all that, they were stately and grand. It was a good look.
Still, it is our belief here at The Tribune that the style and poise with which America is governed are not nearly as important as the impact of policies on the people. And as some smarter than we are have opined, good politics do not always translate into good policy.
For Black Americans—whose hopefulness and optimism were raised by the election of the first Black president—his impact needed to transcend pride and symbolism. We hoped that he would be unapologetic, resolute, direct and unafraid in his advocacy on issues important to our communities. And at the end of eight years, we regret that his tenure didn’t give Black citizens too much more than a real good feeling.
The numbers tell that story.
Of course, we are not suggesting that President Obama was without major successes during his tenure or that history should not mark him as one of America’s most successful presidents. However, while others suggest that President Obama should be gauged against his three most recent predecessors, we, without repentance or remorse, reflect on what the first Black presidency has produced in the way of tangible results for Black America. That is how we have chosen to measure it.
HE DID THAT
We’ll start with the good news. It’s true, indeed, that President Barack Obama accomplished several goals and triumphed in a number of areas during his two terms in the White House. Anyone who suggests otherwise or categorically dismisses the achievements of his administration is simply a hater. As we considered President Obama’s legacy, four specific victories come to mind in the areas of: healthcare, the economy, foreign policy (specifically ending the Iraq War and re-establishing Cuba-U.S. relations) and criminal justice.
Healthcare – A Success . . . Kinda, Sorta
Though a Republican Congress and President-elect Trump have the Affordable Care Act in their crosshairs—dismantling it as we write, Obamacare has to be the single most important accomplishment of the last eight years. The plan was ambitious and ultimately scaled back to reach compromise. But he did what previous administrations could not—brought health insurance coverage to more Americans.
Originally meant by the Republicans to be derisive and snide, the nickname “Obamacare” stuck and with good reason. It is President Obama’s crown jewel—bringing healthcare to millions of Americans despite any pre-existing conditions and lowering the nation’s uninsured rate. According to the CDC and Census data, for the first three months of 2016 the uninsured rate was 8.6 percent down from 9.2 percent in 2015 and from 15.7 percent before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. For perspective, the nation’s rate of uninsured was nearly cut in half. And according to at least one independent analysis of the impact of Obamacare, one in six Americans got a Health Insurance Marketplace plan for $100 or less in 2015 and 87 percent of people who selected a marketplace plan got financial assistance.
Of course, Obamacare has been a mixed bag.
A report released in September 2015 by the Department of Health and Human Services on the effects of the Affordable Care Act indicated that while the benefits of Obamacare could be felt across all demographic groups, more White Americans received coverage since October 2013 than Black and Latino Americans combined, though the rate of uninsured dropped by a greater percentage among minority groups than the White population. According to that report, some 7.4 million White Americans received coverage – under provisions including Medicaid, the Health Insurance Marketplace, and individual market coverage. However, only four million Hispanics and 2.6 Black Americans gained coverage in that period. As a result the uninsured rate among White Americans dropped from 14.3 percent to 8.3 percent, for a net decrease of six percentage points. Proportionally speaking, the drop in the uninsured rate was greater among minorities. For Hispanics, the rate of uninsured dropped from 41.8 percent to 30.3 percent — a net decrease of 11.5 percentage points. Black Americans saw a net decrease in their uninsured rate of 10.3 percentage points, dropping from 22.4 percent to 12.1 percent.
Still for some Americans, particularly those who do not qualify for Medicaid or those living in states that did not expand Medicaid, the costs, deductibles, and copays of quality ACA marketplace plans are still out of reach—even with assistance. This fact is troubling considering that the Affordable Care Act was often held up as an example of an Obama policy that was a boon for Black Americans. The reality was that African-Americans were often less likely to see benefits under ObamaCare compared to other racial groups, according to research released at the end of 2014—about a year after the ACA coverage provisions went into effect. According to that 65-page report by the non-profit research group Urban Institute, while Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska natives saw “dramatic” increases in healthcare coverage over 2014, obtaining coverage was tougher for Black Americans, largely because they disproportionately live in states that had not expanded Medicaid.
Nonetheless, the Affordable Care Act was better than what America had before—42 million uninsured Americans, according to the U.S. Census before Obamacare. Like the rest of the nation, we will be watching to see what happens to the law as the Republicans move to repeal the ACA and leave a gaping hole in its place as no clear replacement has been outlined.
To fully appreciate President Obama’s accomplishments on the economic front, one must recall that when he took over the White House. America was in the throes of the Great Recession of 2008. The GDP was down. Unemployment was up. Big banks and the auto industry needed bailouts. Home loan foreclosures had increased by 75 percent from the year before. Another 7 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were at least one month behind on their payments, up from 5.6 percent a year earlier. And Wall Street was in upheaval.
One of the first things President Obama did was create a package of tax cuts and spending programs to stimulate economic activity.
In February 2009, Congress approved Obama’s economic stimulus that cut taxes, extended unemployment benefits, and funded public works projects. Six months later, GDP growth was positive.
And his overall economic policy has been one that has produced dramatic results:
• Employment is about 7 percent higher than when he took office.
• While wages were stagnate during much of the recovery from the Great Recession, President Obama has the third best showing among the last six presidents in the area of wage gains, with the fastest gains taking place during his second term.
• Corporate profits are about 36 percent higher now than they were when President Obama first took office.
• From the deafining crash that was waiting for him when he took office, the Dow has gone up more than 140 percent since January 2009.
There are two specific foreign policy issues that come to mind as we review President Obama’s tenure—the war in Iraq and U.S.-Cuba relations.
One of President Obama’s campaign promises was to bring “a responsible end to the war in Iraq.” In late February 2009, he announced an 18-month withdrawal window for combat forces, and the United States gradually completed its withdrawal of military personnel in December 2011.
As it relates to Cuba, in July 2015, the U.S. reopened its embassy in Cuba, an important and symbolic step in re-establishing relations with the island nation, after 54 years of a tense and tenuous relationship between the two countries. Since then, additional steps have made it easier to travel to Cuba for business, academic/educational programs, athletic and sports competitions and to visit family. The re-establishment of a diplomatic relationship with Cuba has resulted in expanded cooperation in issues related to the environment, transportation, agriculture, health, law enforcement and the economy.
There were two major wins in the area of criminal justice under President Obama that indisputably benefited African Americans if only because they bore the brunt of the unfair criminal justice policy that previously existed.
The first came in the way of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the enormous discrepancy between prison time for crack cocaine offenses, a crime for which more Black Americans are prosecuted, and powder cocaine offenses, for which Whites are more often charged. Although crack and powder cocaine are derivatives of the same drug, a person caught with 5 grams of crack would face a five-year sentence, while it would take 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence before the Fair Sentencing Act. In short, before 2010 the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences was unfair and racially discriminatory. Under the act, that gap was reduced from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1. Now, of course, that is still not exactly equity, but much better than before.
Critics of the bill predicted that crack cocaine use would rise as a result. They were wrong. In the years since its application, the number of federal prosecutions of crack cocaine offenders has been cut in half. The only downside to the Fair Sentencing Act is that it was not made retroactive. In 2012, a U.S. Supreme Court opinion established that those who committed crimes before 2010 but were sentenced after the law passed were eligible to be re-sentenced. However, many crack cocaine offenders sentenced before 2010 have not had their sentences reduced as a result of the Fair Sentencing Act.
A bi-partisan bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced in the Senate in 2015 would make the Fair Sentencing Act Retroactive—if it ever passes. As of the summer of 2015 some 8,800 federal crack cocaine offenders—87 percent of whom are Black—were still in prison, waiting to make a motion to the court requesting application of the FSA to their cases. While, the Smarter Sentencing Act would make the FSA retroactive, offenders would still have to petition the court for relief, where histories of violence or whether or not the offender’s crime resulted in death or bodily harm among other “safety” factors would be considered. Still, the retroactive application of the FSA to those 8,800 offenders alone has the potential of saving the federal government $225 million a year in the costs to house federal prisoners.
We have to wonder why the SSA wasn’t introduced in tandem with the FSA. Perhaps that would have been way too ambitious. Note to the 115th Congress: Could we pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, already?
The other criminal justice bright spot has been the President’s clemency efforts. Since 2010, President Obama has granted clemency to 1,597 people through pardon or sentence commutations. Many of those former offenders were incarcerated on non-violent, drug offenses.
COMING UP SHORT
Here at The New Orleans Tribune, we are proud of President Obama and could never ignore his historic and momentous election to the House that slaves built. That, however, does not mean that we never took issue with some of his policies, decisions, statements or lack of action. Of course we did. Trust us, we did. But unlike many others who treated such a thought as akin to blasphemy, we often contemplated whether he could be doing more to specifically address the needs of Black America. Moreover, we rejected the notion that being proud and supportive of the nation’s first Black president meant that we could not critique his policies or expect an identifiable impact of his presidency on the disparities and inequities that have plagued and persist for Black Americans since we arrived on these shores. In 2008, 96 percent of Black Americans voted for Barack Obama; in 2012, it was 94 percent. No demographic has been more loyal to this President. So yes, we say he should have done more to challenge the systemic racism and institutional barriers that beset our communities. That would have made us feel better even if the Republicans would have blocked him. Given that they blocked much of everything he actually tried to do any way, we have to wonder why he didn’t front for us more. At least he would have tried. We have to ask that if it a Black man can’t do it from the White House while serving as president of the free world, then who in the hell can . . . or will.
As a matter of fact, we ought to expect any elected leader that vies for OUR votes to address OUR issues and concerns—specifically and clearly. And we are convinced that it has been our inability and/or unwillingness to hold to the fire the feet of those who dare to lead and ask for our support that has been our undoing, without a doubt. President Obama’s blackness should have provided him with no exception. So yes, while he busied himself directing policy that plainly and visibly impacted immigrants, women or the LGBT community, we were often left to wonder “what about Black folk” and we grew weary of hearing the tired, worn-out catchphrase that “he is president of all of America, not just Black America” as if it were some news flash. We knew fully what title he would hold as we turned out in droves to give it to him — twice. So please forgive us (or not) for being a dissatisfied that today in 2017, Black America finds itself in the same disparate conditions that existed before President Obama took office, if not worse.
Equity Is the Issue
Again, we will start with a ray of light. At 7.8 percent for December 2016, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is the lowest it has been since 2007, when it dipped to 7.6 percent in August of that year during George W. Bush’s last term. That much is true. But a deeper look at the numbers tells that the joblessness situation in the Black community did not make great gains during President Obama’s administration. In fact, Black unemployment reached record highs during Obama’s administration—as much as 16.4 percent in August 2011. The last time we saw Black unemployment numbers higher than that were during the Reagan years.
The lowest Black unemployment rates in the last 40 years were posted under the second Clinton administration, with 7 percent in April 2000. Black unemployment under President George W. Bush dipped as low as 7.6. Again, the only other president to post Black unemployment stats worse than President Obama’s in the last 40 years was Ronald Reagan.
Back in 2011, the Congressional Black Caucus got pushback—not only from Congress—but the White House as well, on its version of a jobs bill that would have included provisions to directly address joblessness in the Black community. The CBC wanted to send 10 percent of the money in each of the bill’s provisions to communities where at least 20 percent of the people are low-income, which would have certainly impacted many of the nation’s largely Black communities, but not exclusively.
Of course, it was not much of a surprise that White lawmakers scoffed at the idea. The CBC version of the bill did not make it out of the Senate. But it was nothing short of a slap in the face when President Obama suggested it would be wrong to give special attention to the serious economic problems Black communities face, we say.
As we recall, he said then, “I will tell you that I think the most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community, period, and that is get the economy going again and get people hiring again.”
Now, if simply “getting the economy going again” would address the systemic issues that contribute to the economic woes in Black communities across the country, we would not have astronomically disproportionate unemployment rates in the first place. But we do, which should indicate that extraordinary attention is required to address disparate conditions. That we had a Black president who refused to understand that was a major miss in our estimation. Maybe with a little more support from the President, the CBC provisions of the jobs bill would have passed. Maybe not, who knows? What we do know is that as of December 2016 we have a Black unemployment rate that is still higher than the national average and almost twice as high as the unemployment rate among Whites. And here in New Orleans, where the unemployment rate for working-age Black men has hovered around 50 percent, the joblessness situation in the Black community remains abysmal.
Also during Obama’s tenure, the percentage of Black Americans living below the poverty line has risen slightly, according to the most recent Census Bureau data, from 25.8 in 2009 to 27 in 2016 — up 1.2 percent. Meanwhile, real median income among Black households during those years, according to the Census Bureau, fell from $35,954 to $35,481 — down 1.5 percent. Also, from Obama’s oath of office through the fourth quarter of 2015, the percentage of Black Americans who own homes dropped from 46.1 percent to 43 percent, according to the Census.
It could be argued that Black America didn’t fare excessively worse under the Obama presidency—barely a three point drop in homeownership or real median income falling by a little less than $475 doesn’t exactly make the earth shake. But the stark reality is that as a group, Black America didn’t make much progress in the last eight years either.
While we were pleased with the effort of the Obama administration to right some wrongs in the area of criminal justice as it related to disparate sentences in drug cases, we were disappointed by President Obama’s Justice Department’s inability or unwillingness to file charges in a number of high-profile, present-day civil rights cases.
Among the cases that come to mind:
• No federal civil rights charges against George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
• No federal civil rights charges against Timothy Loehmann, the police officer in the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
• No federal civil rights charges against former BART officer Johannes Mehserle for the killing of Oscar Grant.
• While a DOJ report found a pattern of civil rights infractions in police procedures in the death of Freddie Gray, none of those officers have faced federal civil rights charges.
• Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke has not faced federal charges of civil rights violations in the killing of LaQuan McDonald.
• DOJ investigation into the killing of Michael Brown clears former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Brown
• We are still waiting for the results of a DOJ inquiry into the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. But with a Trump taking over in just days and considering his choice for Attorney General, we don’t have much hope.
• The one that still unnerves us here is the reversal of the verdicts in the federal prosecution of the police officers involved in the killings of James Brissette and Ronald Madison and the severe injury of others in the days after Hurricane Katrina on the Danzinger Bridge. Those officers were prosecuted by the federal government, found guilty and sentenced accordingly, only to have their convictions overturned making way for them to enter guilty pleas and get wrists slaps. This turn of events, as far as we are concerned, can be traced back to President Obama’s ill-advised decision to keep former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, a holdover from President Bush’s administration, in his role as leader of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Louisiana’s eastern district. It was under Letten’s neglectful, if not complicit, watch that an online commenting scandal involving two of his top prosecutors Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, erupted and resulted in the dismantling of the Danzinger verdicts.
To be sure, all of this makes us wonder whether all the hoopla made over the announcement last month that Congress had reauthorized the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act to keep old cases from the Civil Rights era open was little more than smoke and mirrors designed to deflect. Sorry if we have little faith in the seriousness or effectiveness of these particular federal government prosecutors (and even less faith in any to be appointed by Donald Trump) in seeking justice in 50-year-old cases when we can hardly get justice for killings that happened less than five years ago.
We are also disappointed that the President waited so late to turn his attention to another important criminal justice issue that could have a far-reaching impact, especially for a Black community that is disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration in America that often leaves former felons summarily shut out of quality employment and housing opportunities. After announcing in late 2015 a federal proposal to ban the question regarding criminal history on employment applications until after an employment offer has been made, the policy proposal has picked up steam. We could only envision where this proposal would be if it had been taken up by the President Obama in 2009 instead. At any rate, while we are more than certain that Ban the Box will not be on Trump’s agenda, we are looking to congressional leaders, especially those in the Congressional Black Caucus, to continue to push this and other key criminal justice reform issues.
Of all of this administration’s missteps, its misguided public education policy is the worse in our books. The move toward the privatization of public education through the wholesale chartering of public schools has not benefited children in marginalized communities and has in fact done more harm than good in communities throughout the country. That is our opinion based on both the hard data and anecdotal circumstances of which we are acutely aware. More specifically, the brand of education reform that has manifested itself right here in New Orleans was championed and fostered by the Obama administration through the Department of Education and both of its leaders Arne Duncan and later John King has been a failure, we say, despite over-the-top claims otherwise.
When more could and should have been done to improve and bolster traditional public education, billions in federal dollars were funneled as “innovation” and “school improvement” grants to states and private organizations to fund charter schools. Still, we should not have been surprised. Back in 2008, then candidate Barack Obama promised he would double the funding for the DOE’s federal charter school program. And although his administration’s funding of the charter school program fell short of a 100 percent increase, the program’s budget was increased and his unwavering support of charters was evident. In fact, his administration also used Race to the Top grants for states, to encourage the proliferation of charter schools.
While the outgoing President often refers to charter schools as “incubators of innovation”, we know them in other ways. Here in New Orleans, especially, they have become known for their lack of transparency, their failure to adequately serve special needs students, and their arbitrary rules designed to keep the most vulnerable students out of their corridors.
One of the most damaging aspects of the so-called reform movement that has been championed by President Obama is the erosion of democracy as evidenced by the appointment of non-elected boards to govern schools and control public dollars. We have long contended that such operations are unconstitutional, amounting to taxation without representation and continue to urge legal challenges for relief.
To be sure, when it comes to K-12 public education, President Obama’s legacy can be summed up in three ways: (1) Common Core, (2) more testing and (3) more charter schools—none of which serve our communities well.
What we fear most of all is that these education policies will have a detrimental impact that will not be fully realized for some time. One day, 20 or 30 years from now—after millions of America’s most vulnerable children have suffered as a result of the corporate takeover of public education and the testing frenzy has made billionaires out of companies such as Pearson and numerous others, will the vast error of these policies be realized.
Perhaps then, President Obama will offer an apology much like the Clintons served up for their wrongheaded criminal justice policy, And much like the Clintons’ mea culpa, it will be too little and too late.
With regard to higher education, it can be argued that President Obama often missed the mark when it came to understanding the role and importance of historically Black colleges and universities or at the very least that the President had a complex relationship with HBCUs.
Of course and in all fairness, the President’s legacy on HBCU’s has not been all bad. The Obama Administration invested more than $4 billion in HBCUs. The White House Initiative on HBCUs was an important outreach effort to increase HBCUs’ awareness of and participation in federal programs. And the Obama administration also fought to fully fund Pell Grants and expand student aid for millions of low-income students. Pell Grant funding for HBCU students increased from $523 million to $824 million between 2007 and 2014.
But far too often, he was found lambasting these historic and important institutions for poor graduation rates or because of the heavy student loan debt carried by those that matriculated at one of the more than 100 HBCUs in America. It was never clear, however, whether the President fully understood the unique challenges faced by HBCUs, which often take chances on students that other colleges and universities will not. Moreover, it could be effortlessly argued that HBCUs are doing a much better job at graduating Black students than predominantly White colleges and universities. In fact, researchers at The Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for closing achievement gaps, found that while college graduation rates at four-year, state universities for Black students did increase overall between 2003 and 2013, the gap between Blacks and Whites also increased. At 30 percent of the colleges examined, Black graduation rates declined or stagnated as White grad rates climbed, indicating that all colleges and universities need to do a better job graduating Black students—not just HBCUs.
The paradox, of course, is that the same open-door policies espoused by many HBCUs that possibly contribute to their low graduation are also responsible for providing opportunities in higher learning to generations of Black Americans, serving as the bedrock for families and simultaneously uplifting communities. They have been and remain a cornerstone of Black America—period. Instead of criticizing HBCU’s for falling short, we would have rather seen President Obama and his administration find more ways to actively assist HBCUs in their missions to give their students, regardless of their race or socio-economic background, the opportunity to pursue higher education, develop their skills and contribute to our global society.
It seems pretty clear to us that if a president was going to take a stand despite pushback in order to specifically, unambiguously and unapologetically speak to the needs of Black America it would have to be this Black president because we weren’t going to get a chance like this again for generations on top of generations to come. And if you think we are exaggerating consider that America just went from electing a well-educated Black man who always seemed to take the high road, even when he was being flagrantly and unduly attacked, to electing a divisive White guy who disparages women, Muslims, immigrants, and Blacks, who stoops to the depths of depravity with ease as he engages in discourse about “pussy” grabbing, who is the subject of allegations involving bed-wetting prostitutes, and who encourages violence against detractors at his campaign gatherings. Chew on that . . . and the poor example he is setting for our nation, particularly our young people, for a minute.
So while Mr. Obama may not be America’s last Black president, we are betting he will be the last one anyone reading this editorial right now will see. Actually, if Donald Trump is an example of the direction America is going, Mr. Obama may be the last enlightened president America sees for a while—regardless of race.
But we digress. This all is to say that we have work to do—and plenty of it.
While it is hardly a new notion, we have been buoyed to see new focus placed on strengthening our own communities by supporting ourselves and each other, especially Black-owned businesses, as a backlash of sorts to divisive rhetoric and racist overtones of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
We have said before that no one is going to save us, but us. And in this endeavor, corralling our economic power is just as important as voting. Let’s just for a minute imagine what would happen if African-Americans in the United States — with an estimated $1.2 trillion in spending power — habitually patronized the 2.6 million Black-owned businesses that operate in this country.
Recently, the Buy Black movement has helped Black-owned banks to realize substantial gains. In one month, last summer, Washington, D.C.-based Industrial Bank opened more than 1,500 new accounts with deposit balances of about $2.7 million — or more than the number of accounts that are usually opened in a six-month period. At Baltimore-based Harbor Bank, new accounts totaled about $10 million in deposits. Locally, Liberty Bank also saw a sharp increase in the number of accounts opened with the Black Banks Matter movement.
President and CEO Alden McDonald says the new accounts were a combination of existing customers as well as new Liberty customers, especially millennials who are exhibiting more sensitivity to supporting Black-owned businesses.
Through our own We Are the Missing Piece campaign, we calculated that if 100,000 Black New Orleanians deliberately spent at least $50 a week with Black-owned business, it would result in an additional $5 million circulating in the local Black community each week—creating jobs, supporting families, rebuilding neighborhoods and funding worthwhile causes.
Indeed, ensuring that the Buy Black movements are not just passing fads or momentary protests, but part of a consistent, sustained and strategic effort to build capacity throughout Black America is one thing that we can do more of as we transition from the Obama era to Twittering Trump.
The other thing we can and must do is stay involved not just in politics—but in understanding and shaping policy at all levels—especially locally. Consider that in 2009 in the wake of President Obama’s first election, the Tea Party was born. Despite any suggestion to the contrary—this political faction formed as a hostile reaction to President Obama’s election. They began with protests and disruptive behavior. But soon that gave way to a real agenda. They identified the policies they championed and elected like-minded leadership at the local, state and eventually national levels to work on the efforts they supported. Though people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck began to emerge and be identified as faces of the Tea Party movement, the reality is that the efforts were true grassroots activities taking place in towns and cities across the country. Just like the Tea Party, Black America must outline what it needs and wants, translate their issues and concerns into policy and then elect individuals who will get it done or else. And we can’t start this effort with the White House or Congress even. We must begin with city halls, school boards, parish councils or county commissions, state legislatures, state boards of educations, public service commissions and any elected governing body responsible for establishing any and every policy that impacts our lives. We can do it. The one thing that 2008 and 2012 proved is that we can elect candidates. We must now master the art of demanding that they address our issues without trepidation or apology, especially when they look like us.
Finally, as communities across the nation, we must begin to identify, nurture and support young leadership. It’s true nothing seems to energize us as much as smart, young, fresh faces. It was the reason we were all so enamored by a young, relatively unknown senator from Illinois a little more than eight short years ago.
Remember, Barack Obama was a community organizer on the Southside of Chicago before he was a state senator, U.S. Senator or President of the United States.
Yes, it was nice to feel the pride and pleasure of having America’s first Black president. But we needed more . . . a hell of a lot more. And while we are doubtful that we will experience that pride again any time in the near or even outlying future, if we finally turn our focus to policies and how they impact us as a people while demanding that politicians, especially Black leaders, address our needs and actually hold them responsible when they fail to do so, maybe we won’t have to.
Finally, and just so that we are clear, we are just as proud of the President Obama’s historic election today as we were the fateful night in November 2008. Not only did we witness history, we were a part of it. And our candid reflection on what was and what could have been does not contradict that fact. We simply expected more. We can and will—eventually—come to terms with disappointment. To be sure, we know disappointment like the underside of our hands. What we cannot accept or be convinced of is that such an expectation was ever unreasonable.