It’s about an hour before President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union Address. I’m sitting in my room at the Liaison Hotel in Washington, D.C., having just left a VIP reception for 20/20 Vision, a landmark economic forum presented by Black Enterprise and hosted by WalMart. The highlight of the reception was an address by Obama’s Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.
It was a case of wonderful serendipity for the President’s latest historic address to fall on the eve of a day-long forum during which legislators, economists, policy makers, entrepreneurs and experts will engage in discussion aimed at producing results that might help to shape the Obama Administration agenda as he begins the second year of his administration. It is even more fitting that the representative of the administration who helped to kick off this economic forum happens to be responsible for the issue at the top of the agenda of most Americans, and especially African American and Latino Americans. Namely: JOBS.
I won’t bore you (or more likely, further depress you) with unemployment statistics, including those that show that the hardest hit communities happen to be black and brown (and, more depressingly, male). Let’s just say that of all of the myriad issues Americans want relief on, ranging from health care to access to stimulus dollars, at this moment, if what the President Obama has to say this evening doesn’t add up to more jobs, yesterday, they are not going to want to hear much of anything else.
So I listened intently to Sec. Solis as she addressed the gathering of 100 or so politicians, economists, business owners and executives. She made it clear, through both what she said and how she said it, that she plans to attack the problem of unemployment with an intensity and enthusiasm not seen from the Labor Department in nearly a decade. “No one knew what the Labor Secretary was doing for most of the past 10 years,” Solis observed, before emphatically declaring, “I have landed.”
“I have the opportunity and the obligation to help put people back to work,” Solis, a Latina, said. “I don’t have to tell you that our [black and Latino] communities have been hardest hit by unemployment.”
After summarizing a Labor Department agenda to fight unemployment, including a focus on programs to help black, Latino and other “underrepresented communities”, including the formerly incarcerated, Solis insisted that she is taking the Labor Department “in a different direction,” with a “different face and a different tone.”
Judging from Solis’ passionate and forthright description of her mission and her commitment to it, President Obama definitely picked the right person for the job. Americans are counting on their president and his labor secretary to deliver the goods. It’s time for Hilda Solis to step up in the battle to restore jobs and our confidence in our ability to access opportunity and earn our share of the American Dream.
Alfred Edmond Jr. is the editor-in-chief of BlackEnterprise.com