Editor's note: The following are excerpts from President Bush's recent address at the NAACP national convention.
I want to talk about ways to build what the NAACP has always sought — a nation united, committed to destroying discrimination and extending to every American the full blessings — the full blessings — of liberty and opportunity.
I come from a family committed to civil rights. My faith tells me that we're all children of God, equally loved, equally cherished, equally entitled to the rights He grants us all.
For nearly 200 years, our nation failed the test of extending the blessings of liberty to African Americans. Slavery was legal for nearly 100 years, and discrimination legal in many places for nearly 100 hundred years more. Taken together, the record placed a stain on America's founding, a stain that we have not yet wiped clean.
When people talk about America's founders they mention the likes of Washington and Jefferson and Franklin and Adams. Too often they ignore another group of founders — men and women and children who did not come to America of their free will, but in chains. These founders literally helped build our country.
They chopped the wood, they built the homes, they tilled the fields and they reaped the harvest. They raised children of others, even though their own children had been ripped away and sold to strangers. These founders were denied the most basic birthright, and that's freedom.
Nearly 200 years into our history as a nation, America experienced a second founding: the civil rights movement. Some of those leaders are here. These second founders, led by Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. believed in the constitutional guarantees of liberty and equality. They toppled Jim Crow through simple deeds: boarding a bus, walking along the road, showing up peacefully at courthouses or joining in prayer and song. Despite the sheriff's dogs, and the jailer's scorn, and the hangman's noose, and the assassin's bullets, they prevailed.
I don't know if you remember, three weeks ago, I went to Memphis, Tenn. (Applause and laughter.) A lot of people focused on the fact that my friend, the prime minister of Japan, was an Elvis fan, because we went to Graceland. But we also went to another stop, a stop Rev. Jesse Jackson knows all too well, a painful moment in his life and in the life of our nation, reflected in the Lorraine Motel.
The prime minister and I went there, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum. Among the people greeting me there was Dr. Benjamin Hooks. He led me out onto the balcony of Room 306. I remember Dr. Hooks pointed to the window that was still half-cracked. You know what I'm talking about, Jesse. It's not very far away. It was a powerful reminder of the hardships this nation has been through, the struggle for decency.
We want a united America that is one nation under God, where every man and child and woman is valued and treated with dignity. We want a hopeful America where the prosperity and opportunities of our great land reach into every block of every neighborhood. We want an America that is constantly renewing itself, where citizens rise above political differences to heal old wounds, to build the bonds of brotherhood and to move us ever closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all.
I'm an admirer of Bruce Gordon, and we've got a good working relationship. We've had frank discussions, starting with Katrina. We talked about the challenges facing the African American community after that storm. We talked about the response of the federal government. And most importantly, we talked about the way forward. As a result of that first meeting, we found areas where we share common purpose, and we have resolved to work together in practical ways.
I told Bruce that I would work with the Congress to make sure we dedicated enough money to help the folks. He kind of looked at me like, sure, he's heard these political promises before. It's not the first time that he had heard somebody say, well, we'll work together to see if we can't get enough money, and I suspect he might have thought, well, he's just trying to get me out of the Oval Office.
But I meant what I said. … We committed over $110 billion to help the people in the Gulf Coast. That's money to go to build new homes, good schools. Bruce and I talked a lot about how do we make sure the contracting that goes on down there in the Gulf Coast goes to minority-owned businesses.
We also worked together to ensure that African Americans can take advantage of the new Medicare drug benefit. Look, I understand that we had a political disagreement on the bill. I know that. But I worked with the Congress to make sure that the days of seniors having to choose between food and medicine is over. And that's the case of this new Medicare benefit. The federal government pays over 95 percent of the cost for our nation's poorest seniors to get this new drug benefit.
We'll work together, and as we do so, you must understand I understand that racism still lingers in America. It's a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African Americans distrust my political party.
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African American community. For too long my party wrote off the African American vote, and many African Americans wrote off the Republican Party.
That history has prevented us from working together when we agree on great goals. We've put the interests of the country above political party. I want to change the relationship. The America we seek should be bigger than politics.
Surely, we share the same goal: We want an excellent education for every child. Not just some children, but every single child.
See, we must challenge a system that simply shuffles children through grade to grade, without determining whether they can read, write, and add and subtract. It's a system … .We need to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you have low expectations, you're going to get lousy results. We must not tolerate a system that gives up on people.
I worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. Let me tell you the strategy behind the act. It says that the federal government will spend more money on education in primary and secondary schools — and we have increased the budgets by 40 percent. It also says, and in return for additional help, you must measure. We didn't say the federal government is going to measure, we said, we want the local — the states and the local districts to measure.
And the reason why is because, in order to solve a problem you've got to diagnose the problem. Measuring results can tell us whether or not teaching methodology is sound. Measuring results can enable us to figure out which children are falling behind early.
Actually, the achievement gap is beginning to close. There's more work to be done. Measuring allows parents to see how the school that their child is going to is doing. It lets the parents determine whether or not they should be satisfied with the education their child is getting.
I strongly believe that parental involvement is important for our school systems. I strongly believe a parent knows what's best for his or her child. And therefore, when we find schools that are not teaching and will not change, our parents should have a different option. If you want quality education you've got to trust the parents.
I strongly believe in charter schools, and public school choice. I believe in opportunity scholarships to be able to enable parents to move their child out of a school that's not teaching, for the benefit of the United States of America.
We're expanding money for our community college system. I met my pledge to increase funding for historically Black universities by 30 percent. A decent education is the gateway to a life of opportunity. It is a fundamental civil right.
I hope we can work together in an America where more people become owners, own something, something that they can call their own. From our nation's earlier days, ownership has been at the heart of our country. Unfortunately, for most of our history, African Americans were excluded from the dream. That's the reality of our past.
Most of your forefathers didn't come to this land seeking a better life; most came in chains as the property of other people. Today, their children and grandchildren now have an opportunity to own their own property, and good policies will encourage that. And that's what we ought to work together on.
For most Americans, ownership begins with owning your own home. Owning a home is a way to build wealth. Owning a home gives people a stake in their neighborhood, a stake in the future.
Today, nearly half of African Americans own their own homes, and that's good for America. That's good for our country, but (we've) still got to do more. So we — working to do our part with helping people afford a down payment and closing costs, helping families who are in rental assistance to become homeowners, helping people understand the fine print when it comes to mortgage documents.
I also want to work to home ownership in other areas. We want to see more African Americans own their own businesses, and that's why we've increased loans to African American businesses by 40 percent. We're taking steps to make it easier for African American businesses to compete for federal contracts. We're working to expand help to have African American workers own a piece of their own retirement.
Asset accumulation is an important part of removing the barriers for opportunity. The federal government should encourage ownership in the government pension program, to give people a chance to own an asset, something they can call their own.
I want to work with you to make sure America's communities are strong. I've got a friend named Tony Evans. He told a story about the man who had a crack on one of the walls in his home. So he got the plasterer to come by, and the guy plastered the wall. And about four days later, the crack reappeared. Got another plasterer in, put the plaster on the wall, and it reappeared again.
He's getting frustrated. He finally called a wise fellow over. The man explained what the problem was with the cracks on the wall. He said, look, in order to solve the cracks on the wall, you have to fix the foundation.
What I want to do is work with the NAACP to help fix the foundations of our society. We want strong families. We want to help people who need help. We want to help the addicted, we want to help the homeless, we want to help those who are trying to re-enter society after having been incarcerated.
That's what we want to do. We want to help lives be improved. Government can hand out money — and we do — but it cannot put hope in a person's heart, or a sense of purpose in a person's life.
We've provided more than $5 billion to faith-based groups that are running the soup kitchens and sheltering the homeless, healing the addicted and helping people re-enter our society — people who are providing compassionate care and love. Organizations of faith exist to love a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves.
And this faith-based initiative is being challenged in the courts. They claim that — they fight the initiative in the name of civil liberties, yet they do not seem to realize that the organizations they are trying to prevent from accessing federal money are the same ones that helped win the struggle of civil rights. I believe if an organization gets good results, that helps people turn their lives around, it deserves support of government. We should not discriminate based upon religion.
Today more than a million of our fellow Americans live with HIV, and more than half of all AIDS cases arise in the African American community. This disease is spreading fastest among African American women. And one of the reasons the disease is spreading so quickly is many don't realize they have the virus. And so we're going to lead a nationwide effort — and I want to work with the NAACP on this effort — to deliver rapid HIV/AIDS — HIV tests to millions of our fellow citizens.
The history of America is one of constant renewal. And each generation has a responsibility to write a new chapter in the unfinished story of freedom.
That story began with the founding promise of equality and justice and freedom for all men. And that promise has brought hope and inspiration to all peoples across the world. Yet our founding was also imperfect because the human beings that made our founding were imperfect. Many of the same founders who signed their names to a parchment declaring that all men are created equal permitted whole categories of human beings to be excluded from these words. The future of our founding, to live up to its own words, opened a wound that has persisted to today.
There's an old Methodist hymn that speaks of God guiding us with a hand of power and a heart of love. We cannot know God's plans, but we trust in his purposes, because we know that the Creator who wrote the desire for liberty in our hearts also gives us the strength and wisdom to fulfill it.
And the God who has brought us thus far on the way will give us the strength to finish the journey.