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Black support high for Pres. Obama

Associated Press | 3/23/2010, 8:01 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In this banking center walloped by the Great Recession, where unemployment just hit a 20-year high and as many as one in three black people are out of work, blacks could easily be frustrated with President Barack Obama’s insistence that a rising economic tide for all will lift African American boats.

Yet despite surging discontent among some black advocates over Obama’s refusal to specifically target rising black unemployment, it’s hard to find average black folks here who disagree with the president’s approach.

“He has been addressing the black agenda as far as health care, education, all that,” said Tamera Gomillion, a bill collector who has been struggling to pay her own bills.

“It took eight years to get into this mess, so it’s going to take time to get us out,” she said. “I voted for him, and I’ll do it again.”

The drumbeat for Obama to embrace a black agenda grew loudest Saturday, when PBS host Tavis Smiley convened a public meeting of prominent black activists and intellectuals in Chicago to demand policies tailored to the needs of blacks who have been hit disproportionately hard by the recession.

Obama has refused from the beginning of his candidacy to separate the solutions to black America’s economic problems from the country’s at large. After he settled into his presidency, this stance placed him at odds with activists and the Congressional Black Caucus, who once were the voice of black America.

But now, “nobody can go to Obama and say, ‘This is what African Americans want,’ ” said David Bositis, an expert on black politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

He called the debate an “awkward moment” for the CBC: “All of a sudden, there’s someone else who represents African Americans more, if you go by what African Americans say, than they do.”

That certainly seemed to be the case in the Charlotte metropolitan area, which is 30 percent black and had a 12.8 percent overall unemployment rate in January. Charlotte’s huge black turnout was crucial to Obama barely winning North Carolina in 2008, the first Democrat to do so since 1976.

Interviews with two dozen African Americans last week revealed common themes: Obama is correct to focus on the needs of all Americans. It’s too soon to condemn him for inaction. His emphasis on health care and education will greatly help blacks. Black people should take responsibility for solving their own problems.

And when 2012 comes, they plan to vote for Obama again.

“He’s got bigger fish to fry” than a black agenda, said Beth James Davis, a marketing executive, as she ate dinner in a restaurant near downtown with her husband and two young children. “I’m not saying our fish isn’t big, but he’s got more important battles.”

Shenika Simpson was watching her granddaughter at a playground in her Grier Heights neighborhood, which she described as “drug infested.” An unemployed single mother, Simpson said that Obama “can’t just jump in the chair and fix everything within a year.”