Obama speaks to minority journalists

If nothing else, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama could score with minority journalists for at least bothering to show up to their presidential forum. Unlike his Republican counterpart, Obama, just back from a weeklong oversea

If nothing else, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama could score with minority journalists for at least bothering to show up to their presidential forum. Unlike his Republican counterpart, Obama, just back from a weeklong overseas tour, was part of a discussion that closed out the 2008 UNITY: Journalists of Color convention held at McCormick Place July 23-27.

During a panel discussion that took place just before Obama’s appearance Sunday at the convention site, the Illinois senator was said to be elusive among ethnic media. Further, it was said that Black journalists handle Obama with special (soft) care.

But the kid gloves came off, and there was no eluding the hundreds of minority journalists, including ones from ethnic publications and media outlets at the forum.

The event was taped live as part of CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer programming.

The crowd probably would have been much larger had the forum taken place, as previously scheduled, on July 24. But the issues likely would have remained the same.

Though only a handful of questions were asked of the presidential hopeful by UNITY journalists, they were ones that struck a chord among the ethnic groups represented there.

Shifting in his seat and crossing his legs, Obama hardly looked tired, returning home only the night before from his trip that included a packed daily itinerary. He seemed to bear down in anticipation of the grilling.

As president, would Obama issue a formal government apology to the Native Americans?

“We’ve got some very sad and difficult things to account for in our nation’s history, Obama said, describing some of the issues plaguing the Native American community.

But Obama took the issue a step further to include the plight of Black Americans and slavery.

Obama said he’d want to “not only offer words, but deeds” in dealing with reparations for Black people. The Harvard graduate said he supports reparations in the form of improved inner-city schools and an increase in jobs in the Black community.

A poised and calm Obama said he would support plans and initiatives that work toward “lifting people out of the legacy of slavery.”

Always a political hot button, the issue of immigration is often inescapable.

Obama told the audience, which included members of the Hispanic community and media, as well as other immigrant groups, that the nation’s legal immigration system was running unproductively parallel to an illegal immigration system.

But to help collapse the illegal system that sees millions of undocumented workers entering–and staying–in this country, Obama would go after employers who wrongfully hire them. He would also stiffen border patrol and help to establish a smoother path to citizenship that includes having foreigners learn to speak English, he said.

Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, did not attend the UNITY forum, citing scheduling conflicts.

Rescheduling the forum to Sunday meant that a number of UNITY attendees weren’t able to attend due to flight and other plans to return home that day.

But as Obama participated in the forum, McCain endorsed an anti-affirmative action initiative proposed in his home state of Arizona.

Obama said at the forum that he was “disappointed” to learn that McCain, who hadn’t supported such initiatives in the past, had flipped.

The Democratic hopeful called himself a “strong supporter” of affirmative action, but, like McCain, rejects a system of quotas.

Affirmative action, Obama said in response to a question on the subject, “speaks to the value of diversity” but is not “the long term solution” to race problems in this country.

At the close of the forum, convention goers, which included a great number of student journalists, rushed toward the barricaded stage Obama was attempting to exit. With cameras flashing, and some with grinning faces, many in the crowd tried their best to get a snapshot or handshake–or both–from the man who could be the next U.S. president.

With just weeks before the Democratic National Convention and the November election, Obama made what he considers international strides, traveling overseas on a weeklong tour that had him in the turbulent Middle East and in Europe.

He visited troops in Iraq, stayed two nights in Jerusalem and met with, among a number of world leaders, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Obama said the trip, which also saw him speak before a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin, was “helpful” for him to start to rebuild global relationships and establish trust among world leaders who see him as someone they can deal with.

“They feel confident and (believe) I know what I’m talking about,” Obama said of the world leaders and officials he met with on his tour.

But paramount to his global networking, Obama remained aware of the troubles back home. In fact, he drew a correlation between the two.

“The problems we face at home…they are connected to the problems we face abroad,” Obama said.

His trip drew criticism from McCain who accused Obama of premature presidential posturing. But Obama countered that McCain had taken a similar trip shortly after the Republican primaries.

Further, Obama figures his tour rivaled McCain’s.

“I admit we did it really well…that shouldn’t be a strike against me,” Obama said.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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