Editor's Note: This post is a part of the Celebrating Black History Month series, which highlight the work of African Americans who are contributing to the President's goals for winning the future.
As every American knows, who we are is deeply influenced by how we grew up – and the influences that shaped us. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, which is in the eastern part of the state, and had the opportunity to attend what is now known as Central Washington University. My parents were engaged in the community, and in the weight of things, I am James and Lydia Sims’ son through and through. My values, my expressions, and what I care for are all reflective of that. I was one of those lucky children who experienced lots of love, and the benefit of good parenting – and it’s why I feel so strongly about giving future generations of kids the good homes and quality opportunities they need.
And at HUD, I’m in a position to help do that. As Deputy Secretary, I see myself as clearing obstacles out of the way to let our talented staff do their jobs and affect change, particularly in traditionally underserved communities. Through the Federal Housing Administration, for example, we help responsible first-time homebuyers get access to a mortgage. For families who can’t afford a loan, HUD’s multifamily, tenant-based programs help them rent affordable housing. Our homelessness programs provide shelter and supportive services to those who don’t otherwise have a roof over their heads. A big part of our mission is helping what the Baptist tradition calls “the least, the last, and the lost.”
Our employees embody that determination to make a difference. And under the leadership President Obama and Secretary Donovan, our mission has expanded still further. We’re no longer just a housing agency – we’re engaged in comprehensive community development to help rebuild so many areas harmed by the economic crisis.
Take the example of our Choice Neighborhoods initiative, which will transform areas of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods of choice, opportunity, and hope by linking housing to transportation, public services, and access to jobs. But the heart of restoring vitality to our communities lies in schools and unlocking the potential of our young people, and HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods partnership – working with the Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods initiative - is one way we can start to do that. Few things are more deeply linked to outcomes later in life than education, and with this partnership, we can enable young people from traditionally underserved populations to have a real opportunity at the American Dream.
Achieving that dream, and giving people from all races, backgrounds, and walks of life access to choice and opportunity, is not only what Black History Month is about – it’s what America is about. To me, the celebration of Black History Month is a celebration of America as a grand experiment – how this country became the greatest in the world despite Americans sharing no common race or country of origin.
Ron Sims is the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.