Black History Month 2011

  • Michael Stroud's Story: Working Together to Keep America Safe and Secure

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    Black History Month has often times been an acknowledgement and quest to better understand the contributions of famous people from the past and the contributions of the lesser known or unknown people of the present. As the child of two lawyers and an interracial marriage, born only six years after the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia (1967), where the Supreme Court overturned a Virginia law making interracial marriage illegal, I was always reminded of just how close in historical purposes my generation was to those who, despite not having many rights, continued to sacrifice to ensure that subsequent generations had a better society in which to grow. Once I could appreciate the historical impact of the mid-to-late 1960s and the almost overnight impact on me and my generation, I wanted to learn more.

    I started with my own family and found several interesting stories, including that my grandfather was smuggled from Alabama to the North as he was trying to start a union for steelworkers and had to avoid the Ku Klux Klan. I also learned that my father was the first college graduate in our family and went on to be an Assistant United States Attorney. To this end, and to celebrate Black History Month, I am often looking for ways to pass this on and now I can as I help teach my daughter about these topics.

    An anomaly by most Washington, DC standards, I actually grew up in the Metropolitan DC area. Specifically, I grew up in Gaithersburg, MD and went to public school. After graduating high school in 1991, I left the area to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. At Cornell, I was selected as a Cornell National Scholar, was on the Dean’s List, and earned a varsity letter playing football. After graduating from Cornell in 1995, I went to the George Washington University Law School to pursue my law degree.

  • Behind-the-Scenes Video: "Thurgood" Screening at the White House

    Download Video: mp4 (27.3MB)

    President Obama recently hosted a screening of Thurgood at the White House movie theater -- an HBO film about the life and career of Thurgood Marshall, the remarkable Civil Rights lawyer and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Among those in attendance were Justice Thurgood Marshall's two sons, "Goody" and John, and writer George Stevens, Jr. In behind-the-scenes interviews, they discuss Justice Marshall's greatest accomplishments, lessons from his life's story and the particular significance of viewing this film in the Obama White House during African American History month.

    Moments before joining President Obama for the feature presentation John Marshall said, "As we focus on today and focus on moving forward I think it's so important, particularly during African American History Month that we remember those who worked tirelessly and sacrificed so much to enable us to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we do today and my father was one of those."

  • Ambassador Ron Kirk's Story: Standing Up for American Producers Around the World

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    As United States Trade Representative, I am a member of President Obama's Cabinet and serve as the President's principal trade advisor, negotiator and spokesperson on trade issues.  In this role, I have led the office in developing trade policies that are proactive, responsible, and more responsive to American families' interests – recognizing that trade can be a job-creating pillar of economic recovery in the United States and around the world.

    My story begins in the south –the segregated south, to be specific. I was born in 1954, the year of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in Austin, Texas – an otherwise progressive city, but still a city that was segregated and lived by the rules of Jim Crow.  When I was born, my parents were denied their right to vote.   Like so many other black families throughout the south at the time, they were faced with literacy tests for “colored people.”

    Nonetheless, my mother and father made sure that my brother and sister and I attended church, recited our Bible verses, studied hard and made good grades, because they knew that education would be essential to our success.  Thanks to my parents’ efforts to ensure I had educational opportunities, I was able to attend college, to obtain a law degree, to launch and build a successful legal career, and eventually, to have the privilege of serving as Texas Secretary of State, under Governor Ann Richards, in the same state that once forced my mother and father to endure a literacy test. 

    I went on to become the first African-American mayor of the City of Dallas, Texas.  I was elected twice with support from communities of every size, shape, and color.  And today I am the first African-American United States Trade Representative, appointed to serve in the Cabinet of the first African-American President of the United States. To say the least, I feel extraordinarily blessed.

  • Dr. Regina Benjamin's Story: Promoting Health and Wellness for All Americans

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    As Surgeon General, I am privileged to serve as “America’s Doctor,” providing the public with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and the health of the nation. I also oversee the operational command of 6,500 uniformed health officers in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. These officers serve in locations around the world to promote, protect, and advance the health of the American People.

    I grew up in Daphne, Alabama, and graduated from high school in the nearby town of Fairhope. I received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in New Orleans and attended Morehouse School of Medicine before receiving my medical degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I later obtained a masters’ degree in business administration from Tulane University in New Orleans. After completing my family medicine residency in Macon, Georgia, I established a clinic in a small fishing village in Alabama to help its many uninsured residents. That clinic in Bayou La Batre is still operating today, despite being destroyed by Hurricane Georges in 1998, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and a devastating fire in 2006.  President Obama nominated me for the Surgeon General’s post in July 2009, and I was confirmed by the Senate for that position in November of the same year.

    Prevention is the foundation of public health, and prevention is the foundation of my work as Surgeon General. If we want to truly reform health care in this country, we need to prevent people from getting sick in the first place, and stop disease before it starts. In the health reform law that was enacted in 2010, Congress created a commission to develop the first-ever national prevention strategy, and named me to chair the commission. The panel, made up of the heads of 17 federal departments and agencies, is providing coordination and leadership at the federal level to ensure that the government is focused on prevention.

    Before becoming Surgeon General, I served on the Sullivan Commission, a blue-ribbon panel that looked for ways to diversify the health care workforce. The commission found that, while 25 percent of the nation’s population is minority, only 6 percent of physicians are minorities.  That is the same percentage that existed when a similar report was issued in 1910–100 years earlier. Meanwhile, less than 9 percent of nurses are minorities.

    Although the nation’s minority populations are increasing, in recent years there has been a downward trend in minority enrollment at our nation’s medical, dental and nursing schools. Unless current trends are quickly reversed, our nation faces a growing ethnic and racial disconnect between those who seek care and those who provide that excellent care.

    Dr. Regina Benjamin is the Surgeon General of the United States.

  • George Madison's Story: A Strong, Stable American Economy

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's goals for winning the future.

    The greatest influence in my life is my grandmother, Dr. Lena F. Edwards, whose commitment to public service and to minority communities has always inspired me.  My grandmother was a pioneer for both women and African Americans, as one of the first African American women to graduate from Howard Medical School in the early 1920s.  For decades, she provided health services to the minority communities in DC and New Jersey and also built and staffed a 25 bed hospital in Texas for Mexican migrant workers.  In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work.  Her achievements are particularly meaningful as we celebrate Black History Month, and as I serve as General Counsel of the Department of the Treasury under our Nation’s first African American President.

    I was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey and attended New York University’s Stern School of Business, Columbia Law School, and Columbia Business School.  Throughout my career, I have understood the importance and the responsibility of giving back to our communities and to our country and have participated in reading literacy programs for minority youths, legal services program for the poor, and mentoring programs for minority law students as they seek job opportunities.  My experiences with these programs came to mind as I listened to President Obama’s State of the Union address, where he laid out his plan for educating children, rebuilding our infrastructure, and creating more job opportunities for Americans.

  • Marie Johns' Story: Supporting Small Businesses and Growing the Economy

    Ed. Note: This post is part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlights African Americans from across the Administration whose work contributes to the President's vision for winning the future.

    I come from a family of small business owners and have seen firsthand how important they are to strengthening our communities and our economy.  My grandfather owned a landscaping company in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana.  As one of the first African-American owned business in Indiana to win a statewide contract, his company maintained the land around state highways.  After my uncle earned his degree in pharmaceutical science at Howard University, my grandfather helped him start his own pharmacy, which served the city’s African-American community.  Their spirit of entrepreneurship has always inspired me.  Following a 21 year career in the telecommunications industry, I founded my own small business: an organizational effectiveness and public policy consulting practice.

    A proud graduate of Indiana University, I worked my way up from a first level manager position at Verizon Washington, and as an African-American, became the first woman to lead the company.  Whether serving as president of a major telecom provider or chairing the DC Chamber of Commerce, I have been committed to Main Street and underserved communities throughout my professional life.  I created Students Educated for Economic Development Success (SEEDS), a mentoring program that prepared over 200 high school dropouts for entry-level jobs in the telecommunications industry.  I also served as the founding chair of the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science.

    Now, as Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), I have the privilege of supporting the small businesses that are innovating, growing the economy, and creating jobs every day.  I am especially focused on helping the SBA reach businesses in underserved markets, such as African-American communities.  These businesses often have a harder time getting the tools and financing they need in order to compete and thrive.  Our loan programs help banks lend more to small businesses everywhere, and our counselors reach millions of entrepreneurs and small business owners each year.

    Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with several minority-owned businesses in Columbia, South Carolina.  Like small companies throughout the country, these businesses have struggled, but they are poised for growth.  Their message was abundantly clear: give us the tools we need to innovate and grow, and not only will we survive these tough economic times, but we will prosper for years to come.

    I am honored to serve a President who truly understands how important small businesses are to our nation and who is dedicated to ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to flourish.

    Marie Johns is the Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration