The Black Blog by Russell Simmons

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    Dear President Obama,

    As you know, everything I live for speaks to a post-racial America. I am an integrationist in my business practice, my charitable work and my personal life. I want the same for everyone, all the time, and I believe in freedom and justice for all people. I cannot go to sleep at night, unless I know that I am fighting for everyone to benefit from the same rights that I take for granted. These are the core principles that I live by.  

    Mr. President, I am deeply concerned about the future of urban America, specifically the plight of people of color. Our nation is witnessing an all-out attack by the right-wing against those who are struggling the most during these very difficult times, and sadly they are black and brown people. I have been at your side during this extraordinary and beautiful American journey in which you have showed your deep commitment to our country in attacking an economic depression our people didn’t cause, wars they didn’t ask for or want, and levels of poverty and inequality they don’t deserve. During this last presidential campaign, I traveled from state to state helping ensure that we continue our mission to uplift those who are fighting everyday to get into the middle class. However, there are many living in poverty who feel they will never get out. I know you have to be the President not just to black America, but to all America, but they need to hear your loud voice, as only a President like you can have this critical conversation with our community.

    Mr. President, I am concerned that there are some people in Washington who will not let you protect our communities. We know it is very difficult to speak up about these issues without getting attacked by those right wing critics in Congress. But, I have spoken to thousands of ordinary Americans and I have heard stories that have challenged us to do more. When 50 people are shot in Chicago every weekend during the summertime, that’s a black problem. When black men are unemployed in some cities at rates above 40 percent, we are in trouble. When 74 percent of African-American boys do not graduate from high school in New York City, they aren’t just failing out, we are failing them. We know that if these epidemics were happening in White neighborhoods, it would be declared a national emergency. Instead, this has become the status-quo for our communities. Although I am writing about black America, this is not solely about race, but rather this is about a new America, that no longer values one life more than the other.

    Those who are still living in struggle, are deeply concerned about the obstructionist Republicans in the House of Representatives who have done nothing but made your job more difficult. These patriotic Americans are concerned because they are afraid that they will be forced to carry the burden of a recession whose wrath they have already felt. They are asking for a “circle of protection” from non-profits, religious leaders, cultural figures and politicians, as we enter into the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations. But even further than that, they are asking for an agenda that will dismantle the systemic injustices that have plagued these communities for decades.  

    If our ultimate goal is putting Americans back to work and creating new jobs for young people, let’s work backwards. What is preventing these communities from entering or re-entering the work force? Or rather what skills are needed for them to be competitive? After listening to people’s stories from across this country, this is what I have learned we need to do in order to re-build our families, our communities, our companies and our neighborhoods.

    1. End the “War on Drugs.” For the past forty years, we have unsuccessfully waged a war against our own people, creating a “baby to prison” pipeline that has annihilated the working population of young black and brown men. Through the use of archaic and unjust laws, we have been able to warehouse millions of prisoners, many of whom were first-time, non-violent offenders. The solution to our drug problem is not imprisoning more people, it is rehabilitation, fair laws and drug courts.

    2. Continue the vicious assault on the eradication of poverty. Levels of poverty have hit an all-time high during this recession, however we have solutions that can bring these numbers down. We should continue to innovate programs for the most vulnerable, including job training (technical skills), fatherhood classes, healthcare prevention, teen-pregnancy prevention, after-school activities (including arts and sports) and more access to healthier foods.

    3. Build the best and affordable education system in the world. Your understanding of education as a path out of poverty has resonated with millions of families in this country. Your protection of Pell grants, promotion of community colleges and the “race to the top” initiative have been some of your greatest accomplishments in your first term. The 2020 goal of America having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world is attainable and we should keep fighting to reach it.

    Mr. President, this is about your legacy. You will not run for another office. You will not have to campaign ever again. Our communities showed up in record numbers during this last election, many of them still waiting in line to vote when you were giving your victory speech at 1:30 in the morning. We know we will face resistance from Republicans and their rich, lobbyist friends, so that is why we need you now more than ever. You seem to be the only one in Washington who is willing to stand up to these bullies. If we focus on these three agenda items, while continuing to build employment opportunities, I humbly believe that we will put all Americans back to work in due time. Not only will it grow and strengthen our economy, but we will create a future where “the young boy on the south side of Chicago” you mentioned on election night, will be able to see his life beyond the nearest street corner. At that point, we will know, our work is done, and your legacy will be sealed.

    ~Russell Simmons

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