President Barack Obama speaks during his meeting with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, to discuss the ongoing response to the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa and Liberia’s recovery from the deadly virus. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Obama met with African-American civil rights and faith leaders to provide an update on the administration’s priorities as described in the State of the Union. The meeting was also an opportunity to have a dialogue with the leaders about the issues facing their communities, including criminal justice, education, health care and economic development.
Participants included Sherrilyn Ifill, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Marc Morial, of the National Urban League; the Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network; and, Maryland Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, Majority Leader, Maryland State Senate, District 40.
In addition to highlighting the upcoming release of a special report from the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President Obama acknowledged the Feb. 28 anniversary of his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and continuing efforts to reduce restrictions to voting.
Pugh, who is also the President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, said, “Our agendas – the president’s and mine – are right in line with each other. I was elected by a very diverse population in Baltimore; one thing we want to do is be more inclusive opportunities available to help to improve the lives of all of those for whom we are responsible,”.
Citing her own diligent work to push forward the “Healthy Working Families Act” legislation that allows family members necessary time off with earned paid sick leave, Pugh said it compliments Obama’s push for better, more accessible health care. Achievements can be found in the fact that 31 percent more Americans now have health care through Obamacare, as well as the increased number of programs designed to help improve African-American neighborhoods.
Pugh said that it was important to use the president’s readout as a gauge for African-American social advancement since the Civil Rights Movement. Pugh described Obama as the “most disrespected president ever,” and encouraged the nation to view the film Selma to gain a larger understanding of his efforts to solidify economic and social equity.
“Everyone needs to go see the film Selma because often we forget the struggle Blacks faced in this country. We were enslaved here. The Declaration of Independence talked about freedom and justice for all – but these were laws that did not apply to us,” Pugh said. “It is important not to make the same mistakes made in the past.”