Four years ago Election Night, African Americans beamed with pride when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama stood before thousands in Chicago’s Grant Park and laid out his vision for hope and change in America.
For African Americans across the area, that was then. From a District minister who works as a school administrator in Lanham to the vice president of a 50-employee plumbing company in Hyattsville, many want to know and expect to hear on what the president plans to do the next four years before they give him their support.
They’re looking for reassurance Thursday night as they listen to his speech at the Democratic National Convention
“I want to know how he plans to address the 14 percent unemployment rate in the African American community,” said the Rev. Anthony Lee, pastor of Pillar of Truth Church in Washington, D.C.
Lee, who also is dean of students at Lanham Christian School, said “I also want to know more about the president’s faith. Why did they add God’s name to the Democratic platform at the last minute?”
Creating jobs is also on the mind of Larry Frederick, 62, a gas station attendant at an Exxon Station in Riverdale, Md.
“I want to know that he has a plan to create jobs and I also want to know that he has a plan to work with Congress because the Republicans have been blocking him from the beginning,” Frederick said.
Veronica Lynn, a federal worker from Laurel, wants to hear that government workers will be protected.
“I keep hearing all of these calls for less government but what does that mean,” she said. “The federal government used to be a place where you could feel secure about your job, but now I don’t know.”
While Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have made repealing Obama’s health-care law a top priority and former President Bill Clinton made the case for President Obama Wednesday night when he spoke at the convention.
The presidential candidates’ position on healthcare is important to Kasey Henderson, a vice president of a Hyattsville plumbing company. She said she still isn’t ready to vote for Obama even though she did four years ago.
“I am a single mother with two children in college and I want to know will my children be able to find jobs when they graduate,” she said. “We have 50 employees in this company and our health care has gone up under President Obama. We are now paying 67 percent of the cost when we used to only pay 50 percent. Health-care reform is not helping us.”
She said when President Obama was elected, “we all wanted a change, but the only big change is health-care reform and small business is hurting. What is he going to do about that?”
From the greater Washington area to Charlotte, hopes are running high about the speech.
Bob King, a Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner organized a bus trip to Charlotte where he, friends and members of the “Ward 5 Dems,” planned to attend the speech in the stadium, but on Wednesday the outdoor speech was cancelled because of the weather. “It was hard telling the people what happened but we all answer to a higher authority.”
King said he organized a watch party at a Charlotte hotel, open to people from the DMV as well as people from other states.
“He has to hit a home run. His wife is on first base, the mayor of San Antonio is on second and President Clinton is on third. He can’t leave them stranded on base,” King said. “He has to hit a home run.”
During his primetime speech, what does the president have to do to close the deal?
“He should build upon what he has already been successful at,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a telephone interview with The Washington Post Thursday afternoon. “That is why President Clinton was successful. He needs to say that when he came to office there was a loss of 4 million jobs, he created 4 million and that is a net gain of 8 million. He needs to people who didn’t have healthcare have it now. Build upon that, he needs to say 100,000 troops are back home. Build on that. Al Qaeda and the Taliban basically defeated. Build on that.”
The civil rights leader said he’s proud the convention took place in North Carolina, a state where he first got involved in fighting for desegregation as a student at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro.
“I left a North Carolina jail to go to the march on Washington. The fact that we are having the convention here is a testimony to the New South,” Jackson said.
“Four years ago candidate Obama went around the country preaching about hope. It energized us,” said the Rev. Thomas Bowen, minister of fellowship and outreach at the historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
[Political analyst] Jamal Simmons was right when thinking about the challenge that President Obama would face in the 2012 election quipped, “You can never experience your first kiss twice. People have not been as excited about this lesson in the midst of new pains and fears.”
Bowen said this week’s convention “has proven to be just what has been needed - a revival! First lady Michelle Obama in regal fashion re-introduced the president. President Clinton gave a powerful and much-needed testimony and tonight we get to hear from the revivalist. I’m looking forward to what I believe will be one of the best political speeches of the still new century. I’m looking forward to the next four years. Come on Mr. President! Revive us again!”
Jeannine Hunter contributed to this report.