Hutchison African American Leadership Summit

TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2007

Thank you, Senator (Kay Bailey) Hutchison. And thank you for organizing this gathering. This annual summit is a powerful way to keep Black Americans informed and involved in our national discussions.

And Senator (Norm) Coleman, thank you for your sponsorship.

I want to acknowledge the experienced leadership in this audience. You came to Washington to help empower Black Americans. And empower them we must. I agree with Juan Williams, Bill Cosby, and others who argue that we must use every avenue possible to empower our people. This will help us directly confront a crisis in the Black community. That crisis has many names and appears in different guises: crime, health, poverty, unemployment, poor education, lack of homeownership, misdirection, loss of hope, and diminished freedom. And the solution is right here, with you and me. And we see the solution in action with powerful role models, black and white, inspirational leaders, many of whom are here today.

I would especially like to single out one of our speakers, Lou Sullivan, for his steady leadership and vision. Lou is proudly a Morehouse Man. Top class scholar. Famous biomedical researcher. Founder of a respected medical school. Cabinet member. An advocate for addressing health disparities. Thousands and thousands of Americans look up to Lou, and have been influenced by his life and work. And he has been, and remains, a doctor on call.

When we gather for a leadership summit, what we want are more leaders like Lou Sullivan, or Ben Carson, or J.C. Watts, or others who will help empower us. We want a clear message, too: Black Excellence. We want every Black American to strive for excellence, to obtain economic empowerment, to secure full political participation, to hold a position of trust and leadership, to inspire and guide, to blaze new trails. And we want people to associate that with the Black Experience. At the moment, one measure of our crisis is that blacks are too often linked to failure, underachievement, dependence, handouts, and governmental assistance. This linkage is in their own minds, and in the minds of many of our intellectuals, politicians, and opinion makers.

Well, we know better. We must highlight and re-enforce Black Excellence, through people like Tiger Woods, T.D. Jakes, and Chris Gardener. Black leadership has been essential to the progress of our country. We have given much and some of our leaders stand tall in the eyes of history: Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other leaders who have made this nation great. We must use our influence and persuasion to make excellence the goal of our life.

I learned a powerful lesson of leadership and service as a young man. I was a freshman at Lincoln University. The Civil Rights movement was gaining traction, but the fight was far from over.

Bernard Lee - who was Dr. King's top aid at the time - asked me to travel to Alabama to help organize a voter registration drive. So I did. I jumped at the chance. And I saw leadership in action - thousands of people, black and white, who were prepared to fight to make American just and equitable.

And we marched to Selma. My life was forever changed on a Sunday morning as I stood, peacefully, with 600 other marchers on Pettus Bridge. More than 200 troopers met us on a day now known as �Bloody Sunday.� A man named Al Lingo ordered the troopers to release the dogs on us and the beatings began. I was standing four rows from the front. I can still hear the �N� word rolling from Al Lingo's lips.

They used whips and nightsticks, tear gas, electric cattle prods, and digs. More than 50 of us went down. One of the dogs tore into my flesh�I still have the scar.

And you remember� Dr. King didn't counsel retaliation�he showed remarkable leadership. He asked us to move forward and hold no grudges, because the person who suffers the most is the hater, not the hated.

Dr. King told us to change the system and to change our country. And he told us to do this through the courage of our convictions and the power of our message.

Well, I know one valuable way we can do this: economic power through homeownership. Homeownership is a sign of financial security, giving families a stronger stake in the community. It's a part of what President Bush wants for all Americans: to become members of the �ownership society.� And we should be proud that nearly 70 percent of all American families own a home. But this rate of ownership is not evenly distributed. Right now, only about 50 percent of our minority families own a home. But compare this figure to non-minorities, where the homeownership rate is 74 percent.

We will continue to use every resource at our disposal to increase the minority homeownership society, by encouraging powerful partnerships, innovative thinking, and steadfast commitment to fairness, equity, and justice. This is our new battleground, our new civil rights struggle. And as we did before, we will unite together to secure fair housing practices and equal opportunity for Black Americans.

I know we can change the face of homeownership in America. So, if we create a level field, the housing market will gain a significant number of minority homeowners.

President Bush understands the importance of this issue and that's why he made a public commitment to increasing minority homeownership back in 2002. He committed to creating five million new minority homeowners by the end of the decade. I am proud to report that we are already more than half-way there, with more than 3.5 million new minority homeowners. This is a powerful, positive legacy. We should be proud of it as a nation. We owe the President much credit for this initiative and vision.

What more can we do? Well, first, we can end predatory lending. There is no place for it in American housing or lending practices - no place at all!!! Predatory lenders have targeted homebuyers - especially minorities -- and successfully manipulated many of us into unwarranted, illegal, or unethical loans. For minority citizens, in particular, affordable loans are hard to come by. Slick and sinister predatory lenders often appear to be the only option.

Recently, I announced the creation of a new �Fair Lending Division� in HUD that will review mortgage lending practices throughout the nation. The new division will investigate discrimination complaints against lenders who have allegedly violated the Fair Housing Act. The division will also conduct investigations where lending patterns or other information suggests discrimination by a lender, but no individual has come forward to file a complaint.

Second, we must have more housing counseling. Consumers must be educated. And armed with this information, they must act responsibly. As W.E.B. DuBois once said, �The first step toward responsibility is �responsibility.� Our citizens need to be empowered with the tools to know when to spot a sham. And then they must act to protect their economic security. The key is to be able to read and understand the fine print, and also to know when to ask for help.

That's why housing counseling and financial education are so important. This Administration has increased the budget for counseling over 200 percent, with the President requesting another increase, to $50 million, in the coming fiscal year. We are also working with other agencies to strengthen our financial literacy initiatives.

We must encourage Black Americans to make housing counseling the first step in homeownership.

Finally, we need FHA reform. It will help us deal with the sub-prime problem. Kay asked me to specifically talk about this. The sub-prime problem will disproportionately afflict Black Americans unless we act now.

Now, we have the ability to help some of those in need. We have already helped tens of thousands of homeowners refinance - homeowners who were stuck in a sub-prime mess. Those homeowners were able to refinance into safer, federally-insured mortgages.

Frankly, we could do a lot more. But we can't without new legislation to modernize the FHA. We need this reform now!!! I ask you to use your influence, your skills, and your bully pulpits to help secure passage of FHA reform. It is vital for the continued progress and empowerment of Black Americans. The FHA is a mainstay of the American housing enterprise, and 30 percent of FHA-backed loans are to minorities. Over the past 73 years, the FHA has helped 34 million families become homeowners.

We need to be able to help more first-time homeowners and low-income Americans - the groups we were designed to serve, and to serve safely. Minority homeowners who experience foreclosure usually need longer than the ten-year average to quality for another home. Most minorities just get one chance at homeownership. So we need to make sure it works for them the first time.

I'd also like to take a moment to discuss New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I know some of you came here from Louisiana. You probably know that my department has been heavily involved in the rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the public housing arena in particular, my hope has been to rebuild BETTER because public housing residents deserve something BETTER than what they had. They deserve new homes and a future in a socially and economically integrated environment. It would be irresponsible to simply give up on these residents. We cannot confine them to a life of hopelessness and deep poverty.

But we have been stopped from following that vision by a lawsuit. The suit was filed on behalf of some residents who want to go back to public housing that, in my view, is not safe or fit for human habitation. This suit has stopped many of our rebuilding programs, harming the very people we should be helping. HUD is, and has been, willing to settle this lawsuit because we know how important it is to move forward and bring New Orleanian families home. Again, they must come home to a better place than they left. The best way to do that is to settle this case -- we want to get out of the courtroom and get into the neighborhoods where we can start improving the quality of people's lives.

Public housing in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was a mess. It was like public housing in many cities in America. What public housing needs to become is housing that works. It must be responsive to a families needs. Except for a few who have escaped, public housing has not been a springboard to a brighter future. It has not been an environment which allows families to thrive and become self-sufficient. Instead, it has failed those communities. What may have made sense in Depression-era America does not make sense today. Over time, I worry that our public housing policy has been an abject failure.

It must not be a trap�a process that creates a permanent underclass of people, generation after generation, warehoused like second-class citizens, producing despair and engendering a poverty of spirit. Public housing should be a safety net, not a permanent housing solution.

You may have heard a story out of New Orleans a few months ago. A woman named Lakica Watkins had a Section 8 voucher to help her pay the rent on an apartment. She learned she could use it to purchase a home. And she did, becoming the 58th person in New Orleans to do so. And many more residents with Section 8 vouchers could become homeowners there.

Now that is empowerment. We must be guided by the need for empowerment. And I think homeownership is one important way to increase freedom. And think what that will mean. Financial security. Economic empowerment. More opportunity. A stake in the community. Equity. A place to call home. Less dependence.

One early voice for black homeownership was Mary Church Terrell. She spoke of the transforming power of homeownership, which created, in her words, a new �mental and moral tone.�

You may remember that she spent most of her great life right here in D.C. She died on this day in 1954. In her speeches she asked for positive leadership, what she called �lifting and climbing.� As Black Americans climb up the economic, social, and political ladders, we must also lift others. Leadership means, in her words, �valiant service to (our) race.�

And that is exactly what we need now�valiant service. The kind of service you give every day. And as we climb, we must lift. And as we lift, others will climb and lift. It is our way to make sure we scale to the tallest heights, to ensure that we serve as we live.

At this Summit, we must rededicate ourselves to a life of leadership and service. And as we do, we will transform the lives of those we meet and influence, and, in turn, transform our country, making it nobler, stronger, and better. That is the very definition of a life worth living, a life of good and faith service that benefits all Americans.

Thank you.


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