July 14, 2009 / 7:26 PM / 11 years ago

Obama inspires black Americans, racial gaps remain

* US racial disparities still frustrate civil rights group

* Delegates at NAACP convention hail Obama’s rise to power

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK, July 14 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s election has inspired black Americans to pursue higher goals, but battles remain to close racial gaps in health, education and legal justice, black activists say.

The 100th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a leading U.S. civil rights organization, is celebrating the first black U.S. president this week. But while delegates at the NAACP convention say this has stirred hope among blacks, many frustrations remain.

Obama is set to address the convention on Thursday.

Black Americans, who make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, on average die younger than U.S. whites, earn less money, are more likely to be imprisoned and get less education, studies show.

"You have a situation in which hope is up, but because the situation hasn’t changed much frustrations are up, too," NAACP President Benjamin Jealous told Reuters. "Psychologically people have moved further forward than they have physically."

The United States long has struggled with racial tensions. Slavery ended only due to a bloody 19th century civil war and segregation persisted into the late 20th century. Along the way, lynchings and racist so-called Jim Crow laws targeted blacks in many places.

"Since Obama was elected, there’s a feeling of pride and accomplishment, hope for young folks," said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.

"It’s given them a true picture of what African-Americans can do and that it pays off to stay forthright in the struggle — and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel," he said. "We are inspired, and now we need tools."

‘DISCRIMINATION OUT THERE’

"There’s still discrimination out there, even though we have got a black president. It doesn’t change a whole lot of people overnight," said Mary Hall, 69, of Fayetteville, Georgia, a retired newspaper executive and NAACP delegate.

Joe Canady, 46, president of the Conway County NAACP branch in Arkansas, agreed. "(Obama’s) going to do all he can, but he can’t do it all, we’ve got to help ourselves," he said. "It’s going to take us all working together."

Stefanie Brown, NAACP national field director, 28, from Bedford Heights, Ohio, said now that black Americans are inspired by Obama, they now want to see progress in areas where racial disparities still exist.

"I still feel African-Americans want to hold the president’s feet to the fire and not just give him a pass because he is African-America," Brown said. "We do want him to be vocal on issues that we care about."

Jealous, who at age 36 is the youngest person ever to serve as president of the NAACP, said since Obama took office in January there has been more optimism about race relations.

"There’s also a greater sense of impatience on both sides to do something about it," Jealous said.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Will Dunham)




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