Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
National Action Network
2016 National Convention
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
New York, NY

As prepared for delivery

Hello, National Action Network! Thank you very much for that great welcome, and for the chance to join so many leaders in the crusade for human dignity and basic fairness. 

Thank you, Reverend Sharpton, for your introduction and your leadership. I have long believed that the Reverend must have 25 hours in each of his days - he is everywhere.

One day he's at the House of Justice. The next, he's meeting with the House of Representatives. When I turn on the TV, I see him. When I turn on the radio, I hear him. I even opened up this month's Vanity Fair, and there he was.

But it's not where he's been that's important, it's what he's done. Reverend Sharpton, you've been a champion for progress, from the city streets to the corporate suites. And I'm honored that you, the members of the Board, and everyone with the National Action Network invited me to be here - especially on this milestone 25th anniversary.

This organization was created at a pivotal moment in our nation's history. Back in 1991, we were in the midst of a deeply painful recession, the result of a decade-long economic approach that was more trick than trickle-down.

We were seeing less and less federal investment in cities, and more and more indifference to the plight of the poor. And structural inequalities, that were centuries in the making, continued to destroy the dreams of too many Americans.      

But thanks in large part to community servants like you who aren't afraid to get in the way to stop injustice, and then pave the way toward a fairer future, we've seen some progress in the years since.  

We can go to any corporate office here in midtown, and no longer be shocked to see a black or brown face not only in the big meeting, but leading it. More children are making that proud walk across the graduation stage than ever before, and the achievement gap in our classrooms is closing.

And when you look at the Oval Office, you see an African American man there-not as a guest, or a staffer-but as the man in charge. The commander-in-chief. The President of the United States. 

There's no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents this country has ever had. I say this as a citizen who's thankful for the work he's done to create millions of new jobs, help 20 million people get health care, and reform the criminal justice system.  

I say this as the father of a seven-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son who's grateful for the President's investments in education, and his work to protect our planet for future generations. And I say this as an American who has watched him face incredible, unfair opposition - folks who've tried to undermine his leadership, to undercut his authority, and even question his legitimacy as President. 

Even then, he's conducted himself with incredible grace and toughness, with compassion and purpose. And our entire nation is better off because he has been in the Oval Office at this critical juncture in American history.

But this is not a time to rest and pat ourselves on the back. As President Obama has told us, we've got a lot of unfinished business left to do. Poverty still exists in too many communities. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is still too wide.     

We're here because we believe that God has given everyone the potential to contribute great things if the playing field is level. Jackie Robinson showed us this. Friday is the 69th anniversary of his historic debut in the major leagues. His success proved that Americans, of all backgrounds, can compete as long as the rules are the same for everyone. 

I wish I could say that the housing market, or the court system, or the classrooms were as level as that playing field. But right now, too often, even in 2016, many folks have to overcome two and three hurdles just to get to first base - to get an education, to get a job, to build a future.

And at times these frustrations, they bubble to the surface, like we saw in Baltimore and Ferguson. Events like these get covered for a moment, but soon the news cycle moves on to something else. But the folks living in poverty-the folks you serve every day- they don't get to simply move on. 

They live in struggle. They go to sleep in struggle. They wake up in struggle. Many of them don't own a home. They rent. Some of them are homeless.

They don't have a retirement package, they depend on Social Security. They don't own a car, they depend on public transportation. And our nation has a responsibility to use every resource at our disposal like a sledgehammer to knock down the barriers they face. 

At HUD, I'm proud to be a part of a team that serves the neediest Americans. You see, housing is more than four walls and a roof - it's the foundation that families need to build their lives.

Last week, The New York Times profiled 25-year-old Khadijah Williams - a woman who was homeless for much of her childhood. Her family moved so many times to different homes and shelters that she lost count. And her circumstances challenged her development.   

It's hard to do homework when you don't have a home. It's hard to keep friends when you go to 12 different schools in 12 years. It's hard to concentrate in class if your stomach is empty.

But Khadijah was naturally gifted and she worked hard. She read newspapers and up to five books a month. She was always in the top classes. And in high school, she would wake up at 4am and get home at 11pm just to commute to her school every single day.

Eventually, Khadijah secured a home - the college dorm room she got thanks to her scholarship from Harvard University. Now, she is special. But she is a rare case. Think about all the children who lost out on opportunity because they were struggling in poverty - homeless, or hungry, or sick with asthma.

During a visit to Ferguson, I learned that a child growing up in the upscale Clayton area of St. Louis can expect to live 18 years longer than a child living just eight miles away in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood.

And last year, the Washington Post ran a story comparing life expectancy rates in Baltimore's neighborhoods to that of nations around the world. They found that fourteen Baltimore neighborhoods, including Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray grew up, have lower life expectancies than North Korea.

This is unacceptable in the United States of America. It is 2016 - where a child grows up should never determine where she ends up. All families deserve the same chance to succeed, whether they live here on 53rd Street in Manhattan, or Fulton Street in East New York, Brooklyn, or Hackberry Street in San Antonio. 

And HUD is committed to giving them that chance. Consider these successes. $4 billion of investment flowing into neighborhoods to stop opportunity from flowing out in this year alone. New and rehabbed affordable housing so families don't have to choose between paying the rent and the groceries. 

A new federal rule called "Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing" that says clearly to every community receiving HUD funding that you must work with us to eliminate segregation, to invest in struggling neighborhoods, and to give every family real opportunity.

And just last week, I announced new guidance to make it clear that HUD will use the full force of the law to protect the fair housing rights of folks who've been arrested or who're returning to their communities after serving time in jail or prison. Statistics, and even our own experiences, show that black and brown Americans are far more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested than whites. 

So when landlords summarily refuse to rent to anyone who has an arrest record, they may disproportionately bar the door to millions of folks of color for no good reason at all. That's wrong. It has to end. And with this action, it will or landlords will be punished. End of story.

Reverend Sharpton and National Action Network, thank you so much for your support of this work. You've stood up, stood tall, and stood with HUD. You've helped us shake the gates of opportunity open so others could walk through and better their lives. And at this critical moment, when so many of the President's achievements are under attack, we've got to keep building on the progress made in the last seven years.  

So let us keep on marching and mobilizing, sacrificing and strategizing, boosting and building, changing and charging. rising and reforming, training and trying, dreaming and doing whatever it takes to bring a better day.

President Obama came into office saying yes we can. Seven years later, we can all say yes we have done great things. Now, we've got to say yes, we must continue to do great things.

Yes, we are all children of God and equal under the law. Yes, every American deserves opportunity. Yes, we're going to make our economy work for everyone. Yes, we're going to protect voting rights and women's rights. Yes, we need to raise the minimum wage. Yes, we've got to make college affordable. And yes, we need stronger gun laws. 

National Action Network, thank you for helping carry the torch that was lit by the civil rights generation into a new era.

Working together, standing together, and building together, I know it will continue to light the way forward for generations to come.

Thank you very much.


Content Archived: February 9, 2018