In honor of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the White House hosted, “50 Years Forward,” an all-day, live-streamed briefing on America’s civil rights achievements over the past half-century and President Obama’s policy plans for a more equal future.
Opening with remarks by Attorney General Eric Holder, the briefing included a panel of the president’s domestic policy and economic advisers on increasing opportunities for all families in America and break-out discussions on jobs, education, business investments, youth violence, health care, immigration reform and affordable housing.
The event concluded with a riveting conversation between TheGrio.com’s managing editor, Joy Ann Reid, and Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama. Reid began the conversation by asking Jarrett what it means to have an African American president 50 years after the March on Washington, Jarrett said, “What it shows is…we have made a great deal of progress over the last 50 years towards equality,” but we still have a long way to go.
Jarrett praised Obama’s leadership on getting the Lily Ledbetter Act passed at the beginning of his first term but reiterated the president’s frustration with Congress in failing to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act which would have ensured equal pay for women. And while she noted the advancements in LGBT rights during the president’s administration and the success of the Recovery Act, which extended tax cuts for the middle class, she decried the Supreme Court’s gutting of the heart of the Voting Rights Act. While she assured viewers that Attorney General Holder is doing everything in his power to get bipartisan legislation into Congress that would restore the protections the Supreme Court struck down in the Voting Rights Act, and said voters are going to have to be that much more vigilant when it comes to ensuring their vote counts:
“So many people died for the right to vote and there should be 100% voter turnout at every possible election.”
Jarrett commended the organizers of this past weekend’s anniversary March on Washington and the “terrific turnout,” as well as “how inclusive the definition of ‘civil rights’ was,” compared to the original march, with women, LGBT persons and people from all walks of life speaking and in attendance, proving that change “happens best when everyone gets involved.”
Toward the end of the conversation, a Facebook user asked if Jarrett believed that, due to the backlash the president consistently faces whenever he mentions race, President Obama can be more effective once he gets out of office when it comes to solving African American issues. Jarrett responded, “Let’s face it, [naysayers] will find some way to attack the president every single day,” but Jarrett says that the president and the administration don’t focus on the backlash, they just work to do what is right and to help the most people. But, she noted, “The good thing about being such a young president is that he and the first lady have an entire career ahead of them to do good. They are totally inspirational…I’m sure that anything that both of them do [after office] will be working with young folks, but I don’t think he has to wait until he gets out of office [to do it].
“Having a president who is African American, I think is great for children of all colors. Yes, it is true that little Black girls and little Black boys will look at this and say, ‘I can do this too.’ But hopefully, our grandchildren will live in a world [where a Black president is just normal].”