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Remarks Of The President To The President's Advisory Board On Race

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 18, 1998


Room 450
Old Executive Office Building

3:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Dr. Franklin, theAdvisory Board, to the members of the Congress who are here --Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Congressman Amo Houghton,Congressman Jay Dickey, Congressman Ed Pastor, Congressman TomSawyer, and Congressman John Lewis, whose life could be a wholechapter of this report. We thank you for coming. We thank MayorArcher, Mayor Webb, Mayor Bush, Mayor Flores, Governor Thomas of theGila River Tribe, and other distinguished Americans who are heretoday -- business, religious, community leaders.

I thank the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney GeneralEric Holder, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Housing andUrban Development, the Secretary of Transportation, SBA AdministratorAlvarez, Acting Assistant AG, Bill Lann Lee -- I hope I won't have tosay that "acting" forever -- (laughter) -- our Deputy SBAAdministrator Fred Hochberg. Thank you all for being here.

I'm especially gratified by the presence of a largenumber of Cabinet members, members of Congress, and local leadershere today. I thank the head of the Council of Economic Advisors,Janet Yellen, for being here. I'll have more to say about that in amoment. Thank you, Rosa Parks, for coming. (Applause.)

I want to say a special word of thanks to all the peoplewho made this board possible -- to John Hope Franklin for his wiseand patient, but insistent, leadership; Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook;Angela Oh; Bob Thomas; Linda Chavez-Thompson, who was with us in theWhite House just a moment ago but has what I called an excusedabsence -- (laughter) -- my long-time friends and colleagues, theformer Governors of Mississippi and New Jersey, Bill Winter and TomKean. I thank Laura Harris, who has been a wonderful consultant forus on Native American issues. My good friend, Chris Edley, thank youfor what you have done. I thank Judy Winston and the staff of thePresident's Initiative on Race for the remarkable job they have done,and I'd like to thank the people in the White House who worked withthem, but especially Minyon Moore, Maria Echaveste, and before her,Sylvia Mathews. (Applause.) Thank you all so much for what you havedone.

Now, some time ago, John Hope Franklin said, "The taskof trying to reshape our society to bring about a climate of racialhealing is so enormous, it strains the imagination." Well, again Isay, I'd like to thank John Hope Franklin, the rest of this board,and the staff for straining their imaginations and finding the energyto take on this tremendous task of focusing the nation's attention onbuilding one America for the new century.

Often, this has meant enduring criticism, some of itperhaps justified, some of it I have questioned, because, as Dr.Franklin said, no one could solve this problem in 15 months since ithas not been resolved in all of human history to anyone's completesatisfaction. But they have taken on the endeavor. And it has beena magnificent journey. They have crossed this country, the lengthand breadth of America. They have seen all different kinds ofpeople.

For them, it has been a journey across our land, ajourney across our culture, a journey across our history, and ajourney, I imagine, for all of them across their own personal livesand experiences. They've gone from Silicon Valley to Oxford,Mississippi, to the Fairfax County school district across the riverhere, where there are students from more than 100 different nationaland ethnic groups -- 150 different national and ethnic groups.

We knew that no effort could solve all the challengesbefore us, but I thank this board because they have helped America totake important steps forward. I also thank Americans -- unbelievablenumbers of Americans -- from all across the country who haveparticipated -- all those who wanted to tell their stories and allthose who were willing to listen.

They have brought us closer to our one America in the21st century. Out in the country they found a nation full of peoplewith common sense, good will, a great hunger to move beyond divisionto community; to move from the absence of discrimination to thepresence of opportunity to the spirit of genuine reconciliation.This board has raised the consciousness and quickened the conscienceof America. They have moved us closer to our ideal, but we have moreto do.

I want to say, I am especially proud of the work thatevery member of our administration has tried to do. When I look outhere at the Secretary of Labor, the Attorney General, SecretaryCuomo, Secretary Riley, Secretary Slater, Aida Alvarez, Janet Yellen-- all these people who work for me -- they know that we care aboutthis, and they have really worked hard to do you proud, and I thankthem, too. But we have more to do.

You know, for more than two centuries we have beencommitted to the ideas of freedom and equality, but much of ourhistory has been defined by our struggle to overcome our steadfastdenial of those ideals and, instead, start to live by them. It hasbeen a hard road. It is rooted deeply in our own history, as JohnHope Franklin said. Indeed, I believe it is rooted in the deeperimpulses that trace their beginnings back to the dawn of humansociety: the mistrust, the fear, the hatred of those who are theother, those who are them, not us.

In the area of race, it has been a special burdenbecause you can see people who are different from you. And withNative Americans, it's been a special burden because we took landthat was once theirs. With African Americans, it's been a specialburden because we all have to confront the accumulated weight ofhistory that comes from one people enslaving another.

But with every area of racial tension, if you strip itall away, you can go back to the dawn of time, when people firstbegan to live in societies, and learned they were supposed tomistrust and fear and hate people who were not in their crowd. Wesee it manifest around the world in our time. We've seen it betweenthe Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, going on forhundreds of years -- thank God, I hope, about to end. We've seen itwith the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda. We've seen it with theArabs and the Jews in the Middle East; with the Serbs, the Croats,the Muslims in Bosnia; today, the Serbs and the Albanians in Kosovo.In America we see it manifest still in racial differences, but alsoin religious and political differences as well.

In whatever manifestation, I think we have to begin withone clear understanding: when we approach others with discriminationand distrust, when we demean them from the beginning, when we believeour power can only come from their subjugation, their weakness, ortheir destruction -- as human beings and as citizens, we pay aterrible price.

Our founders were pretty smart people. They knew weweren't perfect but we needed to strive for perfect ideals. And theybuilt us a country based on a Constitution that was literally madefor reconciliation -- for the honorable and principled resolution ofdifferences, rooted in a simple proposition that God created us allequal.

Now, because they created a freedom of religion, theycouldn't write in the Constitution, therefore the first and mostimportant commandment is this, to love your neighbor as yourself.But what they did write in that Constitution is, you are commanded torespect and treat your neighbor as yourself. That's still a prettygood guidepost for what we have to do.

On the eve of a new millennium, our country is more freeand equal than ever before, but we have to keep going until everybodyhas a chance to live out his or her dreams according to his or hercapacities and efforts; until everyone has a chance at a good job, adecent house on a safe street, health care and education for theirchildren; and most of all, the chance to be treated with dignity andrespect and to reap the full rewards of citizenship; to relish whatis different about themselves but respect what is different aboutothers.

We know that gaps still exist in all these areas betweenthe races, and we must work to bridge them. We must bridge theopportunity gaps. We must build an America where discrimination issomething you have to look in the history books to find. We have todo a lot of things to achieve that. Let me just try to say what mythoughts are kind of following up on what Dr. Franklin said.

The first thing we have to do is keep the conversationgoing. A real gap in perceptions still exist among the Americanpeople. Some believe that this is no longer really an issue, or it'sjust something that occurs when something terribly outrageoushappened, as did in Jasper, Texas. But it's not just that. It's anissue in the back of someone's mind every time a police officer ofone race pulls over somebody else of another race. It's an issue inthe back of everyone's mind every time a perfectly normal child isput in a remedial class because of the color of his or her skin orthe income of their parents.

We should not underestimate the power of dialogue andconversation to melt away misunderstanding and to change the humanheart. I am proud to say today that the National Conference forCommunity and Justice, led by Sandy Cloud, who is here, will soonconvene a group of religious leaders to continue this work offostering racial reconciliation. And I thank Sandy for taking onthis important job.

The second thing we have to do, again to echo what Dr.Franklin said, is to make sure we have the facts about race inAmerica. A lot of us have strong opinions on the subject; not all ofus have the facts to back them up. As a matter of fact, the more Istay in Washington, the more I realize that sometimes the veryability to hold strong opinions depends upon being able to be deaf tothe facts. (Laughter.) That's why I am very, very pleased that theCouncil of Economic Advisors, under the leadership of Janet Yellenand Rebecca Blank, has produced a book, "Changing America:Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being by Race and HispanicOrigin." And I commend it to all of you. It's also not too big.(Laughter.) You can digest it with some level of comfort. But it'sa good piece of work.

This book will help us to understand how far we havecome and what we still need to do in our efforts to extendopportunity to all our people.

Finally, we here in Washington have to act. We have putforward in this administration and within our balanced budget acomprehensive agenda to expand opportunity for all Americans ineconomic development, education, health care, housing, crime, creditand civil rights enforcement. Again, I thank the Cabinet for theirleadership on these fronts.

Just today, Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarezlaunched two major initiatives to streamline the application processfor loans guaranteed by the SBA for less than $150,000, to make thiscredit available on more flexible terms. The size and kind offinancing many minority- and women-owned businesses so desperatelyneed, as well as many other people in inner-city and rural areaswhere the unemployment rate is still high. (Applause.) Throughthese efforts, we estimate more than $1 billion in loans will beavailable to help businesses expand and create new jobs. We have tomake this opportunity available for more Americans.

I also would like to say I am still hoping that in thisbudget fight in the next few weeks, we can pass the economicopportunity agenda put forward by Secretary Cuomo and the VicePresident to provide more community development banks, morejob-creating initiatives in the inner cities and the isolated ruralareas where the economic recovery has not yet hit. (Applause.)Thank you.

Second, every place we went from North to South to Eastto West, all the people with whom we talked recognized that in thefuture education will be even more central to equality than it hasbeen in the past. We have to do a great deal to set high standardsand increase accountability, to eliminate the gaps and resources andachievement between the races, to give our children the opportunityto attend schools where diversity will help to prepare them for theworld in which they will live. We know too many schools are not asgood as they should be; we know too many students still are caught ina web of low expectations, low standards, poor teaching, crowdedclassrooms.

The budget that I have sent to Congress proposes neweducation opportunity zones to reward poor school districts thatfollow Chicago's lead and introduce sweeping reforms, to close downfailing schools, promote public school choice, eliminate socialpromotion but make sure students get the summer school andafter-school help they need. Today, the summer school in Chicago --the summer school -- is the sixth biggest school district in theUnited States, and over 40,000 kids are getting are getting threesquare meals a day there. So it's fine to say, no more socialpromotion if you give children the chance to learn and grow and do tothe best to of their ability. (Applause.) Thank you.

I am also committed to providing 35,000 new scholarshipsto young people who will agree to become certified teachers and thenteach in our neediest areas. (Applause.)

Finally, I think it is very important to fund ourinitiative to provide 100,000 teachers to lower the average classsize to 18 in the early grades. It is clear from all the researchthat children who come from the most disadvantaged backgrounds aremost likely to have permanent learning gains when small classes areprovided so they can get individualized instruction in the earlygrades. And I think it is very important. (Applause.)

Today the House rejected that idea and instead passed ablock grant proposal that would eliminate accountability; reject theidea of national responsibility for helping communities to raisestandards, improve teaching, or bring the benefits of technology toour students. I also believe we have to pass this proposal toconnect every classroom and library to the Internet by the year 2000;otherwise, the poor kids will be left further behind.

Now, I think we should be doing more in education, notless. Governor Kean said to me today, he said, "I like this proposalto build or repair 5,000 schools; the problem is it's way too small.You should be doing more." (Applause.) So that voice coming from adistinguished Republican former governor, I hope will echo loudly onCapitol Hill today. (Laughter.)

We have a lot to do here. We have a lot to do in thecountry. We've got to keep the connection between what we do hereand what we do in the country, and that is a lot of what this boardhas recommended. So even though the work of the board is over, theyhave given us a continuing mission.

I will say again: if you look at the life of Rosa Parks,if you read the book that John Lewis has just produced about hislife, if you consider the sacrifice of two people who -- one justcame to visit me, Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech Republic,and one will be with us in a few days, Nelson Mandela -- if you lookat all this, you see that a people's greatness only comes wheneverybody has a chance to be great. And it comes from, yes,opportunity; it comes from, yes, learning; it comes from, yes, theabsence of discrimination. But it also has to come from the presenceof reconciliation, from the turning away from the madness that lifeonly matters if there is someone we can demean, destroy, or put down.That is the eternal lesson of America.

We are now given a future of incomparable, kaleidoscopicpossibility and diversity. And somehow we have to implant in thesoul of every child that age-old seed of learning so that the futurecan be ours.

Thank you all. God bless you. (Applause.)


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