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Hazel Trice Edney NNPA Editor-In-Chief
Published: 22 April 2009

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – This Sunday, April 26, will mark the 100th full day since the inauguration of America's first Black president. January 20 was a day marked with tears of joy and painful reminiscing. But it will be most remembered for the overwhelming glory of the historic moment.

President Barack Obama's initial accomplishments have included:

• His immediate confrontation to the nation's failing economy amidst which he now sees "glimmers of hope";

• The reversal of a string of anti-union executive orders issued by the Bush Administration;

• The establishment of the Middle Class Working Families Task Force;

• The closing of the controversial Guantanamo Bay lockup for alleged terrorists;

• His tour of Europe with First Lady Michelle Obama, which raised good will for America abroad during the G-20 economic conference;

• His trip to Mexico with hopes of stopping violent drug cartels and preventing them from entering the U. S.

• His reaching out to Cuba for the renewed relationship, supported by the Congressional Black Caucus.

• A new commitment to pour millions of dollars into the prevention and awareness of HIV/AIDS in America.

But, specifically, how is the new president doing on issues pertaining to African Americans from a civil rights perspective? Pointing out that 100 days is simply not enough time to tell, some civil rights leaders give him an A so far; most also noting an 'incomplete' on the grassroots economy.

"There are some A's and a couple of incompletes," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson in a phone interview from Thailand. "I think the position against torture, an A; the G-20 conference, putting a credible face on America's foreign policy where he has trust capital and Bush had trust deficit disorder."

Jackson also listed Obama's reaching out to Cuba, Venezuela and the overture toward Iran as all A's along with his dealing with the student loan industry, which Jackson described as a "$95 billion a year rip off."

But, the incompletes – mainly in the area of economics -- are clear, he says.

"There's an incomplete on the stimulus because it must be more targeted to get to the bottom. As the states get it, they're using the term shovel ready. But, shovel-ready for those who don't have a shovel because of the lack of capital and lack of credit means they may not be ready. That could be seen as boot straps without the boots."

To be fair, Jackson conceded that the president could only demand that the money gets out of Washington.

"But, we must demand that the states get it down to where the people are," he said.

"We have to be certain that it gets down to the most unemployed the most in need of training, the most in need of business development. That's an ongoing struggle there."

As Black unemployment surges toward 14 percent, National Urban League President Marc Morial agrees.

On a scale of 1-10, Morial gave the President a 9 for his first 100 days. In the Black community Morial cited a need for greater civil rights enforcement and the need for help with job development.

"The creation of an agency taskforce to assist African-Americans in securing construction jobs and green jobs; and the hiring of African-Americans in subcabinet positions at Education, HUD, Labor and Health & Human Services," Morial says.

Like Jackson, he says African Americans must press local and state government to do right by stimulus money.

"We need to remain engaged and hold mayors, governors and local school districts accountable for the stimulus dollars to ensure that African-Americans are included in its benefits," Morial says.

Morial also praises Obama for getting off to a fast start with the passage of the stimulus bill, the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and the appointment of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree also applauds the President's appointment of Holder, America's first Black attorney general and lists a string of observations that have impressed him within the first 100 days, including "his symbolic and substantive decisions evince a level of maturity and calm judgment rarely seen by someone so early in their term as President."

He gave Obama a 10 for adopting a stringent ethics code for his administration and for suspending the prosecution of suspected terrorists who have been detained, but not charged with offenses for nearly seven years; for outlawing water boarding as an interrogation tactic and for appointing former rival and new York Senator Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State.

However, Ogletree's wishes for the next 100 days are just as strong as he also points to the need to connect with those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

"I would like the president to do a tour of America and ascertain the extent and the causes of poverty in America and seek a bipartisan set of proposals, comparable to a modern day American Marshall Plan to rebuild America and energize its people from the bottom up," Ogletree says. "Furthermore, I would hope that President Obama will continue to work with HBCUS to create our next generation of leaders in business and industry."

While civil rights leaders across the board applaud the new president, they almost consistently stopped short of the highest rating of 10, noting the incomplete on the issues pertaining to grassroots African Americans.

"President Obama has tackled some of the critical issues affecting this country, reversed some of the wrongs of the previous administration and has offered hope for all Americans," says NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. But, he quickly notes criminal justice issues that need work.

"Forty percent of the prison population is African American while African Americans only make up 13 percent of the country's population," Jealous says. "We would like to see the president pass a series of laws that would do away with racial profiling, eliminate the excessive use of force by law enforcement and enforce strict guidelines on prisoner treatment."

Like other leaders, Jealous also strongly points out economic deficiencies in the Black community.

"Our citizens are losing their homes at a rate we have never seen before, small businesses are folding and more Americans are losing their jobs every day. President Obama needs to address these issues and address them fast," Jealous says. "The housing crisis is crippling our country and the administration needs to call for a moratorium on foreclosures on homes.  Further, President Obama needs to implement smart policies to stop the exponential job losses and put an end to the hemorrhaging in the small business community."

Jealous concludes, "We cannot mortgage the lower class to invest in the middle class. With millions of African-American's out of work, the President needs to address the issue of poverty. A large number of American's live on Main Street, however a large number of African-American's live on Back Street, and the President must continue to offer hope to those aspiring to be in the middle class."

While many say it's far too soon to realistically rate the president, they are quick to say what they want more of.

John Payton, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, applauding Obama's appointment of Holder, also wants more attention to the impoverished.

"Many inner city communities are in economic and social distress," says Payton. "Their public schools are failing to graduate many, in come cases most, of their students. Public housing is in an equally distressed situation. Jobs are being lost; health providers and health insurance are being lost. The criminal justice system is playing an inappropriate role in many of those communities. We need comprehensive programs to address these critical problems."

Payton says social and civil rights groups must propose policies for corrective action and not stand by and watch.

The greatest help for the administration must be everyone's patience, says Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"I don't think you can judge someone after only 100 days. That said, he's accomplished more in his first quarter than most presidents achieve in their entire first term. He's focused on creating jobs where we need them and has signed into law a number of backlogged civil rights bills," says Henderson. "We didn't get in the morass we're in today overnight and we're not going to get out of it in 100 days or 200 days or even in a year."

Perhaps Jackson put it in the most succinct nutshell. "We're better off than we were before he was inaugurated."

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