Full Text Of President Clinton's Speech To The Annual Convention Of The NAACP
July 17, 1997
CLINTON: We have got to keep going until we push more and more and more of our minority children into higher education. First finish high school. Then at least get two years more of college so that you can compete and get a decent income with prospects for growth and opportunity in the years ahead.
That must be our shared objective.
Now let me just briefly say -- in addition to education, I think there are two other things we have to focus on if we're going to get where we want to go.
The first is economics. We have got to rebuild the economic life of our inner cities and our poorest rural areas. They are the biggest economic opportunity today for the rest of America. Unemployment in this country is at a 25-year low -- 23-year low.
When you hear that the unemployment rate is 5 percent, don't be fooled. That's a national rate. We've got 10 states with unemployment rates below 3.5 percent. And there's that many just moving around all the time.
If you get around 3 percent, it's almost functionally zero because people are just moving around in their lives.
But you know as well as I do there are cities or there are neighborhoods within cities that still have double-digit unemployment. There are poor rural counties that still have double-digit unemployment. There are people who are employed but grossly underemployed, who are working part-time just because that's all they can do.
There are places where people get up and go to work every day, but they're always going somewhere else to work because there are no businesses in their neighborhoods.
Now, that is a huge opportunity. We have development funds in the United States with countries that used to be communist countries because we want to help build a private sector economy. We have got to move in our thinking from the idea that our inner cities and our poor rural areas should have their future dependent primarily on government payments to say, no, no. They're entitled to the same range of economic opportunities as all other American communities.
We've got to have a private sector, job-related, investment- related, business-related strategy to bring economic opportunity to the young people who live in these areas. It is not true that these folks don't want to work. Most of them are working like crazy. They're working like crazy.
Last year, for every entry level job that opened up in St. Louis, Missouri, there were nine applicants -- nine for every job that opened up.
Now if we can't do something to revitalize the economy of our poorer areas when we've got the lowest unemployment rate in 23 years and businesses out there looking for new opportunities to invest, when can we do it? We have to do it now.
What should we be doing? We've been working on this since 1993 to try to create the environment in which people would wish to invest, and give people a chance -- empowerment zones, enterprise communities, community banks that loan money to people who live in the neighborhood to start small businesses, cleaning up the environment of our cities so people will feel free to invest and they won't worry about somebody coming along and suing them because we've already cleaned up the problems, giving tax relief to our lowest-income working people through the Earned Income Tax Credit, strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act so that more banks would invest money in the inner cities, opening up housing opportunities. I heard you say that before when you were talking -- if you want the schools to be integrated, we've got to have middle class housing with poor people's housing in the cities again. We have to have housing back in the cities where people are living together and working together...
... a real serious strategy to move people from welfare to work and a serious strategy to do something about crime, because people won't invest money if they don't think that they're going to be safe in their business operations.
Now, we've been working on that. When I spoke to the mayors in San Francisco, I said, here's what we're going to do for the next four years. We want to double the number of empowerment zones and enterprise communities. We want to double the number of these community banks to make loans in the inner cities.
We want to clean up the brownfields of these cities so that nobody refuses to invest because the environmental problems are out there. We want to clean up 500 of the worst toxic waste dumps. Who's going to put a plant next to a toxic dump?
We want to do this so that people can get investment. We want to pass a juvenile crime bill that will be modeled on what Boston has done, where not a single child has been killed with a handgun in over a year and a half now -- almost two years in Boston. Not one.
And I'll tell you something just for the record, because we're going to debate this all year -- yes, they are tougher on gangs and guns, but they also give kids something to say yes to.
They have probation officers and police officers who get in the car at night and make house calls to homes of children who are in trouble.
Just like a doctor making house calls, you can always find a patient there. They have 70 percent compliance with probation officers -- with probation orders in Boston -- 70 percent. Unheard of. Give our kids something to say yes to. So we've got to do that.
We have to do something about home ownership, as I said. We have to do something about public health, more basic services. Do more to fight HIV and AIDS. Include millions of more children with health insurance. All these things we intend to do, but you have to help us.
The NAACP has always done a good job of involving business leaders of both parties in your endeavors, but we need to go back to the business community and say, now is the time. I will do everything I possibly can to create the environment in which people can invest and work. Creative mayors have ideas about how to do this.
But if we can't do it now, with the national unemployment rate at 5 percent, when can we do it? It is America's best opportunity for continued growth.
If we had this many consumers in a nation 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, we would be pouring money into it, and investment money. I say to you, our cities and our rural counties, where there is unemployment and underemployment, is our next big avenue of growth, and we have to get together and make sure it gets done.
The last thing I want to say is economics; education; thirdly, racial reconciliation. Look at the world. You pick up the newspaper any given day, and you find people killing each other halfway around the world because of their racial and ethnic and religious differences: the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi; the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland -- my people still argue over what happened 600 years ago -- the Muslims, the Croats, the Serbs in Bosnia, the Jews and the Arabs in the Middle East.
And here we are with our long history of black-white issues, rooted in slavery, with the appropriation of a lot of Mexican- Americans after the war with Mexico into our country, and then with wave upon wave upon wave of immigrants.
Now, in a global economy, in a global society where we're being brought closer together, it is a huge asset for us that we have people from everywhere else. We just announced an initiative on Africa, on promoting economic development in Africa.
And there was a lot of excitement about it. And we had a lot of Republican congressman interested in it, because they think we can make a lot of money there.
I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean several African countries grew at seven percent or greater last year. And are doing the same thing again this year. And more than half the countries on the continent are democracies. Now, we can all understand that. But why are we in a good position to do well there? Because of you. Because of you.
Why are we in a good position to unite all of Latin America with us in a common economic group early in the next century? Because of the Hispanic-Americans, all the Latinos.
Why are we in a good position to avoid having Asia become a separate economic bloc and a destabilizing force in the world? In no small measure because of all the Asian-Americans in this country. Why do we have some hope of being a major force for peace in the Middle East? Because of all the Jewish-Americans here, and the increasingly active and constructive Arab-American community here.
In other words, it's a good deal that there are so many of us who are so different from each other. This is a good deal, not a bad deal. This is a good thing.
If we can find a way not only to respect and tolerate, but to celebrate our differences, and still say, but the most important thing is, I'm an American. I'm bound together. I'm part of this country. I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and I have an equal chance.
Now, that's what Dr. Franklin and Judy Winston and all the people who are working with me over the next year, that's what we're trying to figure out how to do.
And we know we have to do certain things that are government policy. But we also know that this is an affair of the mind and the heart as well.
First, the law. The law makes a difference. We've had a Community Reinvestment Act requiring banks to invest money in our underinvested areas on the books for 20 years.
But since I became president, and we said we were serious about it, of all the 20 years investment, 70 percent of it has been done since 1993. The law matters. The law matters.
We have to enforce the Civil Rights Laws. I hope you will help me to secure the confirmation of my nominee to be the next assistant attorney general for civil rights, Bill Lee.
For 23 years, this son of Chinese immigrants has worked for the cause of equal opportunity. For many years as a lawyer of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I thank you for your support of him. But I ask you now to stay with him, and let's make sure he will be confirmed.
And then I ask you to continue to work with Dr. Franklin and Judy Winston and our advisory panel. We have to do this together.
For this whole century, the NAACP has been a moral beacon, reminding us that in the end, we have to become an integrated society, or one America. That's going to be more important than ever before.
Today, the only state in America without a majority race is Hawaii. But within five years, there will be no majority race in California, our biggest state, with 13 percent of our population.
In Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, which we use to think of as the great melting pot of white ethnics and black folks from the South who couldn't make a living on the farm anymore that went to find a job in the car plants, there are now more than 145 different racial and ethnic groups in that county. In Detroit.
We are changing very rapidly. And we have not given much thought not only to how we're going to heal our old wounds and meet our old challenges, but how we're going to become one America in the 21st century.
We need your help. In September, I'm going home to Little Rock to observe the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School.
When those nine black children were escorted by armed troops on their first day of school, there were a lot of people who were afraid to stand up for them. But the local NAACP, led by my friend, Daisy Bates, stood up for them.
Today, every time we take a stand that advances the cause of equal opportunity and excellence in education, every time we do something that really gives economic empowerment to the dispossessed, every time we further the cause of reconciliation among all our races, we are honoring the spirit of Daisy Bates. We are honoring the legacy of the NAACP.
We have to join hands with all of our children to walk into this new era -- with excellence in education, with real economic opportunity, with an unshakable commitment to one America that leaves no one behind.
I came here to offer you my hand and to thank you for your work and to challenge you for the days ahead.
Thank you, and God bless you.
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