Because of them I stand here tonight, on the shoulders of giants. And I’m here to say thank you to those pioneers and thank you to the NAACP. (Applause.)
And yet, even as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of the past 100 years; even as we inherit extraordinary progress that cannot be denied; even as we marvel at the courage and determination of so many plain folk — we know that too many barriers still remain.
We know that even as our economic crisis batters Americans of all races, African Americans are out of work more than just about anybody else — a gap that’s widening here in New York City, as a detailed report this week by Comptroller Bill Thompson laid out. (Applause.)
We know that even as spiraling health care costs crush families of all races, African Americans are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases but less likely to own health insurance than just about anybody else.
We know that even as we imprison more people of all races than any nation in the world, an African American child is roughly five times as likely as a white child to see the inside of a prison.
We know that even as the scourge of HIV/AIDS devastates nations abroad, particularly in Africa, it is devastating the African American community here at home with disproportionate force. We know these things. (Applause.)
These are some of the barriers of our time. They’re very different from the barriers faced by earlier generations. They’re very different from the ones faced when fire hoses and dogs were being turned on young marchers; when Charles Hamilton Houston and a group of young Howard lawyers were dismantling segregation case by case across the land.
But what’s required today — what’s required to overcome today’s barriers is the same as what was needed then. The same commitment. The same sense of urgency. The same sense of sacrifice. The same sense of community. The same willingness to do our part for ourselves and one another that has always defined America at its best and the African American experience at its best. (Applause.)
And so the question is, where do we direct our efforts? What steps do we take to overcome these barriers? How do we move forward in the next 100 years?
The first thing we need to do is make real the words of the NAACP charter and eradicate prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination among citizens of the United States. (Applause.) I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009. And I believe that overall, there probably has never been less discrimination in America than there is today. I think we can say that.
But make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still felt in America. (Applause.) By African American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and a different gender. (Laughter.) By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. (Applause.) By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion simply because they kneel down to pray to their God. (Applause.) By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights. (Applause.)