The ceremony also served as his clarion call for all citizens to become more involved in moving the nation forward. Obama made it clear that the inauguration is more than a president taking the oath of office but a reaffirmation of the need for individual and collective action. In fact, that spirit was apparent in the invocation delivered by Myrlie Evers, former chair of the NAACP and wife of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who shared the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, and presence of today’s civic advocates Rev. Al Sharpton, National Urban League CEO Marc Morial, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and Martin Luther King III on the platform.
Now that the celebration is over, African American civic and business leaders are seeking to have the current occupant in the White House address a range of problems that still confront the black community, among them, alarming high rates of unemployment and poverty and financing for small businesses. Another issue: a continuation of diversity at the cabinet level and throughout the federal government. In the past few weeks, Obama has gained criticism for filling cabinet vacancies for secretaries of state, defense and treasury with white men. Although he has yet to replenish his cabinet, his selections to replace secretaries of labor, interior, energy as well as U.S. trade representative and EPA administrator – all filled by minorities and women during the first term – will come under increased scrutiny. In fact, NAACP’s Jealous has called for the next Supreme Court appointee to be an African American woman.
In talking with radio host Warren Ballentine on his show last week about the job creation and training initiative currently being developed by a group of African American civic leaders, he stressed that “we need to move quickly on these issues. We only have 14 months,” identifying the amount of time before congressmen start campaigning for 2014 mid-term elections and the presidency starts entering lame-duck status.
I watched the Inauguration at the “Celebration of Democracy” brunch held by the Executive Leadership Council, the organization comprised of senior executives of major corporations. The gathering of 200-plus swelled with pride and toasted the moment. Ronald Parker, the group’s president & CEO, used the ceremony to galvanize the troops.
“We must use this moment to spur us to meet our goals,” he told the crowd, “to increase diversity and expand our power within the executive suite.”
As part of the ELC’s call to action, the group has developed a plan to expand the number of African American CEOs, C-suite executives and corporate directors at each of the largest publicly-traded corporations.
So the Inauguration serves as not only a new beginning for the president but for those who truly seek to keep government as an activist tool that has a role in increasing unemployment, expanding business opportunities, protecting voting rights, eradicating poverty and promoting diversity. That level of activism did not stop with pulling a lever in November or engaging in pomp and circumstance this week. It requires the collective action of leaders and foot soldiers to challenge the administration to address such problems and set priorities; make a do-nothing Congress accountable for their actions; and ensure our voices are heard. It is a new beginning for inclusion and activism.
The president has eloquently stated that it takes the voice, action and will of the people to put the nation on the course to a more perfect union. From the streets to corporate suites, that will be required of all of us during the next four years.