President Obama always makes a big splash when he comes to New York City.
Thursday was no exception. He spoke at the NAACP’s annual convention, and brought the audience to its feet more than once. It was his most direct speech on issues of race since the campaign, and contained more than one reference to the need for black people to take individual responsibility for bettering our condition.
I spent part of Thursday in a part of New York City that’s not too far from the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan where the president spoke. Not too far, at least, as the crow flies.
In some ways, the West Bronx is a world away from Midtown. Walk its streets and you experience hope and despair simultaneously. There’s the hopeful hum of road repair and new construction. Unlike “back in the day”, a good number of wearing the hard hats are people of color.
You look in wonder at a vest pocket community garden on Morris Ave. just below 181st St.
You hear the laughter of young children at a playground up the block. A couple of blocks away, the rumble of the elevated subway provides a tympani roll every five minutes or so. Whether walking or driving through the Bronx, you realize this place has a rhythm all its own. The smells of restaurant food from the English and Spanish speaking Caribbean come together to remind you it’s almost lunchtime.
Yes, warts and all, the Bronx is a beautiful place to me. Yet I know better than to try to romanticize it. As President Obama told the NAACP, much still needs to be done. On that note, a thought came to me as I digested the speech and my trip to the Bronx at the same time. While it’s fine for the president to talk about individual and family responsibility, what about the responsibility of politicians to better the conditions of poor, working people in places like the West Bronx?
Recent local developments could lead one to conclude some politicians are acting as irresponsibly as fathers who make babies and then abandon them. They build fiefdoms through providing needed services like health care, then pay themselves princely salaries in addition to what they make as lawmakers. The recent gridlock in the New York State Senate, the inability of California lawmakers to work out a budget agreement, and other examples around the country seem to say the need for responsibility doesn’t stop at the doorstep of black America.
Maybe one day soon, President Obama will get to walk the streets of the Bronx?
He certainly walked the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, so he knows the pain of poverty and dashed expectations first hand. That’s why his message resonates with many in the black community. He needs to deliver that same message to greedy, avaricious politicians, even if they’re members of his political party.
You think it would make a difference?