July 17, 2009 / 12:43 AM / 10 years ago

Obama has tough-love message for African-Americans

NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Barack Obama had a tough-love message for fellow African-Americans on Thursday, urging black parents to push their children to think beyond dreams of being sports stars or rap music performers.

President Obama speaks at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) 100th anniversary convention in New York City July 16, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama’s election as the first African-American president buoyed the black community. At the 100th anniversary celebration of the NAACP, the country’s oldest civil rights group, he urged blacks to take greater responsibility for themselves and move away from reliance on government programs.

“We need a new mindset, a new set of attitudes — because one of the most durable and destructive legacies of discrimination is the way that we have internalized a sense of limitation; how so many in our community have come to expect so little of ourselves,” he said.

Obama told a packed ballroom at a Manhattan hotel that blacks need to recapture the spirit of the civil rights movement of a half century ago to tackle problems that have struck African-Americans disproportionately — joblessness, spiraling healthcare costs and HIV-AIDS.

“What is required to overcome today’s barriers is the same as was needed then — the same commitment. The same sense of urgency. The same sense of sacrifice,” he said.

Obama said parents need to force their children to set aside the video games and get to bed at a reasonable hour, and push them to set their sights beyond such iconic figures as NBA star LeBron James and rap singer Lil Wayne.

Education is the path to a better future, said Obama.

“Our kids can’t all aspire to be the next LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States,” he said.

Obama noted that his own life could have taken a different path, had it not been for his mother’s urgings.


“That mother of mine gave me love; she pushed me, and cared about my education,” he said. “She took no lip and taught me right from wrong. Because of her, I had a chance to make the most of my abilities. I had the chance to make the most of my opportunities. I had the chance to make the most of life.”

Obama was on one of his first major political outings since he took office January 20.

In Holmdel, New Jersey, he spoke twice for Gov. Jon Corzine, who is seeking re-election but lagging badly in the polls against Republican nominee Chris Christie.

New Jersey and Virginia hold gubernatorial elections in November. Though local issues typically define who wins, the outcome is likely to be viewed as an early referendum on Obama’s leadership, ahead of the 2010 congressional elections.

Obama himself enjoys strong public approval ratings well over 50 percent, but they have been dropping in recent weeks from the lofty heights he had enjoyed in the first months of his presidency, suggesting his political honeymoon was coming to an end as Americans begin to examine his policies.

Obama said in recession-hit New Jersey that turning around the jobless rate is usually one of the lagging indicators at the end of an economic downturn.

Slideshow (6 Images)

After earlier in the week announcing it was now his economy to fix, he was tough in his criticism of Republicans, blaming them for getting the country into the current predicament.

Corzine, speaking to thousands at an open-air arena, attempted to tie his Republican opponents to the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush, a strategy similar to that which Obama employed in defeating John McCain last November.

“The same people who miserably failed in the White House now want you to hand the keys to the statehouse to them. No way!” Corzine said.

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