ABC News' Seni Tienabeso reports:
With a high-stakes meeting aimed at averting a government shutdown looming, President Obama continued his pre-2012 campaign-style swing through the Northeast, where he addressed a very receptive crowd at the National Action Network convention in New York.
“There are times when change can seem painfully slow," he said. "There are times when you may say, 'I don’t know what Obama is doing.' In those moments, when we start asking ourselves if change is possible, we need to remember what we’ve done over the past few years.”
President Obama focused heavily on inequality and education during his 20-minute address at the 20th anniversary of the network started by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“When there is an achievement gap between the levels of education of people between different backgrounds, that is not a black or white problem. That is an American problem," he said. "We are all responsible for the education of our children.”
Before the president took the stage, Sharpton heaped effusive praise on him for the work he has done since taking office, and warned those in attendance not to forget how far America has come since 2008.
“He took this nation from where most of us have never been in our lifetime and put us back on a solid course,” said Sharpton. “Some of us in the most pain are being asked to make the most sacrifices. We are not going to be used like that.”
President Obama, who applauded the work of the National Action Network, quickly followed up on that message and pointed out what he believes he has achieved since taking office. He referenced health care reform, student loan reform, and the controversial bailout of the auto industry.
“We didn’t realize until late in the game that we would be facing the worst recession in generations. Some folks have amnesia about this. Where are we two years later?" the president asked the crowd. “Our economy is starting to grow again. People are starting to get hired back.”
Throughout the speech, the president repeatedly referred to the continued inequality in America when it comes to education and unemployment as civil rights issues that need to be addressed.
He pointed out the disparity facing African Americans when it comes to unemployment, but added that poor across all races are sacrificing too much.
“There are Americans of all colors and creeds that are struggling to live the dream. That was what our campaign was about, to remind people that we are all in this together,” said Obama. “The only way for America to prosper is if all of us prosper. In America, we rise and fall together. I got my start looking to bring opportunities to neighborhoods with shuttered stores. ... These causes of justice, equality and opportunities are the heart of what makes us American.”
President Obama said that in order to achieve those goals, Americans cannot abandon the education system. He repeated a pledge to position America to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by the end of this decade, saying that is how America will win the future.
“In the 21st century, it’s not enough to have no child left behind," he said. "We need to make sure they get ahead.”
The trip had been seen by some as an effort to shore up his African-American base in advance of the 2012 election. Some in the African-American community have griped that President Obama has not focused enough on causes facing the black community.
It was the president's second trip to New York City in the last week. A few days ago, he raised $1.5 million for the Democratic National Committee at the Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem.
- Seni Tienabeso