When speaking before black audiences, President Obama tends to be more charismatic in his delivery. He just plays the room differently — gripping and galvanizing, with a preacherlike cadence that can sometimes rise to a holler at points of emphasis.
That was certainly the case on Saturday night at the annual Phoenix Awards Dinner, the culminating event of the 41st Congressional Black Caucus Foundation‘s Annual Legislative Conference. Hosted by local news anchor Maureen Bunyan and actor Hill Harper (also a former Harvard Law classmate of the president‘s), this year‘s black-tie ceremony honored EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson for her attention to environmental health impacts on the poor through the agency; boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman for his Houston-based ministry and youth charity work; civil rights leader and Southern Christian Leadership Conference founder Joseph Lowery for his lifelong commitment to justice; and Georgia Rep. John Lewis for his bravery in SNCC and the Freedom Rides during the 1960s.
Powerful as the awards presentations were, the event‘s standout moment was President Obama‘s speech, which centered on faith and perseverance during hard times (while also pushing his jobs bill and deficit-reduction plan, naturally). He opened his remarks with an anecdote about a sermon he once heard Rev. Lowery deliver, which professed that there‘s “good crazy“ and “bad crazy“ — and sometimes you need a little bit of the good crazy, fueled by faith, to make the world a better place.
“No matter how hard things get, we keep the faith. We keep fighting; we keep moving forward,“ Obama said, before detailing the direness of the times we‘re in, with a specific emphasis on African-American struggle. “The unemployment rate for black folks went up to nearly 17 percent — the highest it‘s been in almost three decades. Forty percent, almost, of African-American children are living in poverty; fewer than half convinced that they can achieve Dr. King‘s dream. You‘ve got to be a little crazy to have faith during such hard times. It‘s heartbreaking, and it‘s frustrating. And I ran for president, and the members of the CBC ran for Congress, to help more Americans reach that dream.“
“Pass this Jobs Bill”
Next Obama touted some of his efforts to stabilize the economy and provide a safety net for the poor and unemployed, including multiple tax cuts, financial regulatory reform, a near doubling of Pell Grants, an extension of unemployment insurance and health care reform. “Ask the family struggling to make ends meet if that extra few hundred dollars in their mother‘s paycheck from the payroll tax cut we passed made a difference,“ he said. “Ask the engineering student at an HBCU who thought he might have to leave school if that extra Pell Grant assistance mattered.“
Acknowledging that there‘s far more work needed to alleviate the country‘s economic pain, the president hit his selling points for his jobs bill and deficit-reduction plan, again urging Congress to act on them. “These Republicans in Congress like to talk about job creators. How about doing something real for job creators? Pass this jobs bill, and every small-business owner in America, including 100,000 black-owned businesses, will get a tax cut,“ he said of the American Jobs Act, his voice rising to a near shout and the audience jumping to its feet. “You say you‘re the party of tax cuts. Pass this jobs bill, and every worker in America, including nearly 20 million African-American workers, will get a tax cut.“
“Bad Crazy” vs. “Good Crazy”