Saturday, September 24, 2011

Phoenix Awards Dinner: Obama's Call To Action

At Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual gala, President tells crowd to "stop complaining" and "put on your marching shoes"...
President Obama
spoke to a crowd of close to 3,000 on Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual Phoenix Awards Dinner. From the stage of the cavernous, subterranean hall in the Washington Convention Center, the President gave an impassioned speech to try to recapture the affection of a group whose membership has in recent months been vocally critical of his policies. He touted his successes and laid the blame for his Administration's failures at the doorstep of the GOP. First Lady Obama, clad in a black evening gown by designer Michael Kors with the long sleeves pushed up, watched from the side of the dramatically lit stage. (Above: The First Couple entered to a standing ovation)

While admitting that in the last three years "the unemployment rate for black folks went up to nearly 17 percent -- the highest it’s been in almost three decades" and that almost forty percent of African American children live in poverty, the President recalled the hard-won successes of the civil rights era, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he urged the CBC to work with him to pass the American Jobs Act.

"I expect all of you to march with me and press on," President Obama said. "Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC."

It was the President's third appearance at the event since taking office; he received his own Phoenix Award in 2008. Honorees included Lisa Jackson, the President's Environmental Protection Agency chief; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA); boxing legend and grill master George Edward Foreman, Sr; and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, whom the President hailed during his remarks. (Above: The First Couple with from l CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO); Lewis; Lowry; and CBC Foundation Chair Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ))

Some notable guests were the Rev. Jesse Jackson; actor Cuba Gooding, Jr.; Rep. Charles Rangel; the Rev. Al Sharpton; and CNN's Roland Martin. Actor and activist Hill Harper and WJLA evening news anchor Maureen Bunyan served as co-emcees for the event.

The audience seemed very receptive to the President: After previously publicly chastising the President for ignoring black unemployment, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said recently that the CBC is now far more hopeful, thanks to the American Jobs Act. Waters heads the CBC's jobs task force. (Above: Foreman responds to the President's speech)

"He [President Obama] heard us. As a matter of fact we can see our hand print all over this proposal," Waters said of the AJA, in an interview with MSNBC. "We’re pleased about it."

In his remarks, the President also admitted that keeping faith in his Administration requires a bit of "craziness."

"You’ve got to be a little crazy to have faith during such hard times," President Obama said. "It’s heartbreaking, and it’s frustrating."

But the work must continue if African Americans are going to keep being part of the American Dream, the President said.

"Each night, when we tuck in our girls at the White House, I think about keeping that dream alive for them and for all of our children," President Obama said.

"Even when folks are hitting you over the head, you can’t stop marching. Even when they’re turning the hoses on you, you can’t stop. Even when somebody fires you for speaking out, you can’t stop. Even when it looks like there’s no way, you find a way -- you can’t stop," he said.

He closed by telling the crowd to stop complaining, and to "press on."

"I don’t know about you, CBC, but the future rewards those who press on," President Obama said. "With patient and firm determination, I am going to press on for jobs. I'm going to press on for equality. I'm going to press on for the sake of our children."

The President received a standing ovation as he finished.

"Leaving CBC Dinner, the President made a great speech. I told him it was a grand slam," Sharpton tweeted.

CLICK HERE for the full transcript of the President's remarks. (Above: With Sharpton and Gooding in the crowd)

The President and Mrs. Obama shook hands along the ropeline for about ten minutes, and left without eating dinner, as is typical.

The First Couple arrived at the gala at 8:12 PM, and the motorcade was back at the White House at 9:32 PM. (Below: The President speaks with Rev. Jessie Jackson while greeting wellwishers in the ropeline)

*AP photos

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