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President Obama shifts focus to Black women

29th September 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Hazel Trice Edney
Contributing Writer

( – With a backdrop of “My Brother’s Keeper” and nearly two years of focus on issues surrounding Black and Hispanic males, President Obama has signaled a shift to Black women, honoring how they have historically “helped carry this country forward.”

Those were his words at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual Phoenix Awards Dinner, which he has keynoted nearly every year since his election.

“Of course, Black women have been a part of every great movement in American history even if they weren’t always given a voice,” he said to applause at the Walter Washington Convention Center in D.C. “They helped plan the March on Washington, but were almost entirely absent from the program. And when pressed, male organizers added a tribute highlighting six women – none of them who were asked to make a speech.”

The President continued listing the maltreatment of women that took place on that historic day, on August 28, 1963:

He recounted, “Daisy Bates introduced her fellow honorees in just 142 words, written by a man. Of course, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson sang. But in a three-hour program, the men gave women just 142 words. That may sound familiar to some of the women in the room here tonight,” he said to a trickling of applause and nodding heads throughout the audience. “The organizers even insisted on two separate parades – male leaders marching along the main route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and leaders like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks relegated to Independence Avenue. America’s most important march against segregation had its own version of separation.”

Driving home his point, the President acknowledged that despite much attention on the plight of Black men and boys in America, including as it pertains to unemployment, criminal justice and incarceration rates, Black women also continue to have a long way to go.

“There’s no denying that Black women and girls still face real and persistent challenges,” he said, listing the modern day inequities: “The unemployment rate is over 8 percent for Black women. And they’re overrepresented in low-paying jobs; underrepresented in management. They often lack access to economic necessities like paid leave and quality, affordable child care. They often don’t get the same quality health care that they need, and have higher rates of certain chronic diseases – although that’s starting to change with Obamacare,” he said to applause.

The President stopped short of announcing specific policies on women that the White House might push in his final 15 months in office although he was emphatic about the need to help women overcome challenges in order to move the nation forward.

“The good thing about America – the great project of America is that perfecting our union is never finished. We’ve always got more work to do,” he said. “And tonight’s honorees remind us of that.”

Those honorees included the late Amelia Boynton Robinson, an organizer of the Bloody Sunday march to Montgomery, Ala., who was shown in a photo to have been beaten unconscious at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. President Obama recalled how he held her hand during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches.

“And on that day, when we were celebrating that incredible march in Selma, I had Ms. Amelia’s hand in one of my hands, but Michelle had Sasha’s hand, and my mother-in-law had Malia’s hand – and it was a chain across generations. And I thought about all those women who came before us, who risked everything for life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so often without notice, so often without fanfare,” he said as the ballroom erupted in applause. “Their names never made the history books. All those women who cleaned somebody else’s house, or looked after somebody else’s children, did somebody else’s laundry, and then got home and did it again, and then went to church and cooked – and then they were marching.”

He credited those pioneering women for the advances of the millions of women currently across America. He included the successes of First Lady Michelle Obama, who was also at the dinner.

Another Phoenix Award honoree was Juanita Abernathy, the wife of Dr. King aide, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Mrs. Abernathy helped to organize and lead the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott, which took place in her home state of Alabama in1955 to 1956. She still works to advance her husband’s legacy.

Other honorees were the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a champion for civil rights and voting rights; Fred Gray, pioneering civil rights attorney and activist who represented both Rosa Parks and Dr. King; the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for its leading role in the dedication of the “Stone of Hope” statue of Dr. King; as well as the late civil rights icons Julian Bond, former NAACP chairman; and Louis B. Stokes, one of 13 co-founders of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.

“The honorees this year embody the spirit of sacrifice, service and leadership to our country and underserved communities,” said A. Shuanise Washington, president and chief executive officer of the CBCF.

The glitzy black-tie dinner, packed with elite community servants as well as the now 46 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including 20 women, is the staple Black tie event of the annual CBCF-ALC which features power-packed issues forums during the day and parties and receptions in the evening.

In February 2014, President Obama announced his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, to assure the advancement of young men and boys of color in America. Although, the White House Council on Women and Girls has also been a staple of his administration, some pundits have pointed out that not enough attention have been given to the advancement of females of color.

President Obama implied there will be more work in that regard.

“So I’m focusing on women tonight because I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them. And I want to talk about what more we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our Black women and girls in America today,” he said to applause. “Because all of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong Black women who helped carry this country forward.”

This article originally published in the September 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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