Black voters express pride in Obama, but also expectations

Tuesday January 22, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Crowds of black supporters loudly chanted President Barack Obama's name during his second inauguration Monday.

Behind the excitement of the ceremony, however, lay more complicated emotions.

For some, Obama's status as the first black president has given him the ability to skirt topics they consider important to the community, even as he has reached out to women, Hispanics and the gay community.

"He avoids talking about black issues directly," said Rahnaun Simms, a first-time voter who came to the inauguration from George Washington University, where he is a freshman. Simms, who like the vast majority of black voters cast his ballot for Obama, said he thought the president did a "wonderful job" in his first term. But he was frustrated that Obama and Congress didn't do more to address economic issues important to the black community.

During his first term, Obama took action on some issues important to black voters, such as signing the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the disparity between sentences for crack and powdered cocaine, and provided billions of dollars in funding for historically black colleges.

Still, these were not as high-profile as the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which made it easier for women to sue over unequal pay; an executive order deferring deportation for some undocumented immigrants; or the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy against openly gay members of the military.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a political advocacy group that aims to strengthen the influence of black voters, said he would have liked to see Obama take stronger action on the historically high rate of foreclosures during the recent economic downturn.

"The black community lost more than 75 percent of its wealth in the housing crisis, and the impact it has had on our generation and will have on future generations should be addressed by Washington," he said.

He said he hopes that Obama will focus more on civil rights issues such as voting in his second term in light of new voter ID laws passed in several states.

The timing of the inauguration on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday gave emotional resonance to the day.

Several dozen people took turns taking pictures of the King statue before heading to the National Mall, about a 15-minute walk away, for the inauguration.

In his inaugural address, Obama referenced African-American history several times, harkening back to the "blood drawn by lash" in slavery, civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., and King's March on Washington.

Civil-rights marchers "left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth," he said.

But amid the lofty rhetoric, some had more day-to-day concerns about Obama's agenda.

Vonda Bolden, an elder from Shekinah City of Praise Church in Hagerstown, Md., said she hoped to see the president continue to focus on expanding health care in his second term.

"Black people are getting sicker and dying out here," she said.

Still, she remained hopeful.

"He is our leader," she said. "Everyone in the community is praying for him, whether they like him or not."

This report contains information from the Associated Press.


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