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The Boston Globe

Politics

President Obama convenes African American policy conference

WASHINGTON – President Obama welcomed African American leaders from Massachusetts and across the country to the White House today for discussions about what the president has done for the black community and what he can do better.

The day-long conference includes meetings with an array of Obama administration officials, from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Enivronmental Protection Adency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson. The White House is seeking to educate participants about Obama’s record on education, civil rights, housing and poverty.

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Attendees, who include civic, academic, and social leaders as well as state and local elected officials, also will have an opportunity to share their thoughts. Invitees from Massachusetts incude Kelley Chunn, owner of a Roxbury-based public relations firm; Pamela Everhart, a senior vice president of policy development for Fidelity Investments; and Donna Latson Gittens, owner of a Newton-based marketing firm.

“Part of the function of this gathering is for you to share your ideas, your best practices,” the president told participants. “Let’s do some brainstorming, we want your input, we want your ideas.”

The gathering comes as a newly released report shows poverty still is plaguing many residents in Massachusetts, with African Americans taking a particularly hard hit. Across Boston, 34 percent of African American children lived in poverty in 1990. That figure inched up slightly to 35 percent during the past two decades, according to the study sponsored by the Boston Foundation.

In a statement about the conference, White House officials touted a laundry list of accomplishments, including tax cuts for small businesses, expanded access to credit for African American business owners, and funding to rejuvenate low-income neighborhoods. They said the stimulus package also provided millions for job training and another $1.5 billion for programs to help the homeless.

“When President Obama took office, the economy was shedding nearly 800,000 jobs each month and millions of families were unable to make ends meet. African Americans were hit especially hard by the recession, struggling with significant economic losses, including near-record high levels of unemployment and low incomes compared to the national average,” the White House said in the statement. “Since day one, the President has fought to restore the strength of middle class, protect the interests of the low-income families, and allow those hardest hit by the economy to have access to the American Dream.”

In his remarks to the group, Obama stressed the need for unity and perseverance within the African American community.

“We’ll get through these tough times,” the president said.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @donovanslack.
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