View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 18, 1998
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AND THE ADVISORY BOARD 

The Oval Office

2:20 P.M. EDT

DR. FRANKLIN: Mr. President, we are at the end of our journey. Fifteen months ago, we sat together in San Diego. You gave us the charge first here in this room and then in San Diego. And you told us that you wanted a dialogue to begin in this country over the question of race at a time when we could afford to deliver it, because we have no immediate crisis. And we have made a work plan, we've had to follow it and during the past 15 months we have done a number of things which I think were exciting, rewarding, gratifying. And it gave us reason to hope that we could, in due course, do something about the problem of race in this country.

One of the things we've done is traveled all over this country, back and forth, up and down and across. I went to Florida I think six times, and to California seven times. I had the feeling perhaps in a few more times, we could carry California. (Laughter.) And we're still trying.

Perhaps the most gratifying thing has been the response of the American people. I was not prepared, very frankly, for the kind of enthusiasm which was manifested in one part of the country after the other. We traveled as a board to various parts of the country, but individual members, teams of us, groups of us, went to many other places. And I'll tell you that we were enormously gratified with the reactions and responses.

Let me give you just an example of what I'm talking about. In many parts of the country, as a result of the stimulation that you gave by making your comments and your addresses on the subject, in many parts of the country there have been initiatives that were taken, either by them or as a result of being stimulated by you or by the board's work. And the result was that in a community such as, say, Seattle, Washington, you had groups springing up all over the city, groups of people working on health and on education and on the administration of justice and on education and so on. And they worked month-in and month-out, and then finally they said that they thought they were on their way and they had something to say, and they would invite me or some other person -- in this case, me --to Seattle to hear what they were doing and to respond.

So they sent delegations to a city-wide luncheon, 900 people, and they all were involved in various communities, and they told us what they were doing about these race problems. And the enthusiasm which they manifested as they talked and as they made their reports indicated to me that this was fundamental, this was basic and that they were on their way.

I ran into the same thing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for example, where the YWCA -- this was in our week of dialogue -- where the YWCA put on a luncheon. And they had not only the price of lunch, but there was another condition for being admitted to the luncheon; in other words, you had to come with someone of a different race. And they piled in that place, as a matter of fact, they broke every fire code, I'm sure, because it was so crowded. And once again, they talked about what they were doing, and how they felt about the problem.

The thing that struck me on every occasion -- whether it was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida or St. Louis or Chicago or Phoenix or Seattle or Boston -- was that the people seemed relieved that someone was doing something about this, about the problem of race. They seemed to feel that they could accomplish something, that they could achieve something, knowing that this was on the agenda of the nation. And so I was greatly gratified by that.

I was gratified by the fact, also, that as we moved around the country and talked with people, there was the feeling that the future lay in the hands of younger people, that they would be the ones who would, in the long run, bridge the gap and that they should be encouraged in every way possible. That's one of the reasons we began to focus and concentrate on education as very fundamental to the results which we were seeking. And I was gratified, as I'm sure my colleagues were, to find that people still had faith and trust in education, that this would be the way to go, this would be the way in which we would really, in the long run, solve the problem that has plagued this country for more than three centuries.

So that we come to you this afternoon, feeling that the 15 months have been worthwhile. We have had some setbacks and some disappointments. We have unfortunately been distorted and misunderstood and misquoted by the media. And we've not always had the opportunity even to have a rejoinder. But we have not been discouraged by that. We have invited the media to come with the people who were certainly farther along on this matter than members of the media were, that somehow the people got the message -- sometimes stilted, perhaps, but they got the essence of the message. And the thought was that they showed the kind of enthusiasm and optimism that was extraordinarily gratifying to us, who worked on the subject.

Now, this is the end of the road, so to speak, for the seven of us and for the staff, but as you certainly know, we want this to go on in some very real and concrete fashion. I'll talk about that perhaps a little better, more extensively a little later. But we are extremely anxious that the whole world will know that this is not a 15-month commitment, this is a lifetime commitment; that this country holds it to itself to pursue this goal of peace, equality and justice for all Americans.

And it's been worth the trip, and we hope that the rap will go on -- without us, but with our blessing. My colleagues will tell you what their experiences were, because I could take the entire hour and more and tell you about what I've been doing. (Laughter.) But I want Governor Winter and all the others to tell you some.

GOVERNOR WINTER: Mr. President, let me thank you for affording me -- and I think I speak for my colleagues -- the opportunity of serving you on this Advisory Board. It has been one of the great education experiences of my life. I've learned a lot about this country, and I've learned a lot about my fellow Americans.

And what I have learned -- I could spend several hours talking to you about it but let me try to capsulate just very quickly. There is a huge reservoir of goodwill in this country. Most folks want to do the right thing. Sometimes they don't know quite how to do that, and there is a standoffishness frequently of people from different races.

What we have done on this initiative, I think, has been simply just to touch the surface. But there is, as Dr. Franklin has said, there is a great hunger out there for leadership across this country to point the way whereby this increasingly diverse people that we have in this country can live together in relative harmony. And at the risk of sounding presumptuous, I think this can be one of the great legacies of your administration. I know how committed you are -- you and I have talked about this for a long time. You are the first president in the history of this country that put together a group like this, put together an initiative like this, and commissioned us to go out and find some answers.

Well, we think we found a lot of answers. We've asked all kinds of questions and we've had all kinds of questions asked to us. As the Chairman said, there's been a lot of skepticism about. But you and I, having come from the South, we understand that people do change. We have seen our fellow southerners change in ways that I did not think possible back in the 50's and 60's.

The American people, now, I think understand that their destiny is wrapped up in their ability to bring together these great strengths that are represented in this diverse country that we have. So it's absolutely essential -- and I can't emphasize this too strong -- it is absolutely essential that this initiative be carried forward in a permanent way. We are recommending to you in this report that you establish a council modeled after some of the other high profile, highly effective councils that have served this country in the past with highly regarded, highly respected committee leaders on it, who will give additional credibility to the process.

If we do that, I think we'll solve a lot of these racial problems. If we don't do that, and we just leave it to chance -- and a lot of my friends back in Mississippi say, well, you know, why are you getting involved in all this? Everything's getting along all right. It's not going to happen by chance, we know that. It's going to happen only if there is a strategic effort made that brings together people from different races in a systematic way and let them understand the commonality -- the commonality -- of their enemies and their aspirations.

Most folks want about the same thing. They want good education for their kids. They want a shot at a job that will sustain them. They want to live in a comfortable house on a safe street. They want access to reasonable health care. And above all else, they want to be treated with dignity and respect. Now, that doesn't seem to me like too big an order for a great country like ours to fill. But that's not going to happen unless we can continue public policies -- public policies that will ensure that that happens. And unless we have a specific framework, a strategic framework, to make sure that we bring about a process of racial reconciliation -- and that's not going to get any easier because as you know better than I do, this country is growing racially more diverse all the time.

So we need to keep working on it, even harder, under your leadership, and see to it the things that we're recommending here in this is what I think is a remarkable report. They are obtainable objectives, and I urge -- we urge you to see to it that this administration, your administration, that this be the highest priority that you could have.

While I'm talking to you, let me pull out something. Do you remember when you and the Vice President met with us about a year ago? I showed you a copy of a photograph from my grandson's class in Oxford, Mississippi. Well, that's what it looks like, that's the photograph. And since that time, we've had a meeting of this Advisory Board in Oxford. They're still talking about it down there, because they're going to make permanent that structure that they created there.

THE PRESIDENT: What a wonderful poster.

MS. COOK: It was one of our best trips, too.

GOVERNOR WINTER: The kids in that little school out there wanted me to hand you this book of letters. Now, I'm not going to read you the whole book -- let me read you one letter here now. It said, "Dr. Mr. President. I'm going to tell you a few get-along secrets we use at Oxford Elementary School. One, we always share markers and other materials. Number two, we help people who hurt. Number three, we play with people and don't fight with them, and we don't care what's on the outside -- we care about what's on the inside." And it's signed, "Your citizen, Alan Justice." (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Isn't that great? Maybe I ought to read that to people.

GOVERNOR WINTER: And they want you to come visit their class. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: This is your grandson's class?

GOVERNOR WINTER: That's my grandson's class. That's right.

DR. FRANKLIN: We went to the classroom.

GOVERNOR WINTER: We had a great day down there.

DR. FRANKLIN: We did, indeed.

MS. CHAVEZ-THOMPSON: And I have to follow that? (Laughter.) I didn't bring a book.

THE PRESIDENT: This is beautiful, too. Nice.

MS. CHAVEZ-THOMPSON: Mr. President, I want to thank you as well for allowing me to serve these last 15 months on this very, very wonderful Advisory Board. We've gotten to become -- we've bonded and have become a team and have had a lot of respect and admiration for all of the work that has been done by the individuals, as well as by the Advisory Board.

I'm going to play into some of the things that both the Chairman and Governor Winter have said when they talked, of course, about one of the priorities that the Advisory Board placed on education and the opportunities that are needed and presented for our children.

And I was the fortunate one that was assigned to go to the Fairfax school system and listen to the children and talk to the teachers and the parents who go to the schools and find out that a teacher, when one child refused to sit next to another child who was of a different color for the reason of color, stopped the class and for 25 minutes spent the entire classroom -- or engaged the entire classroom in a conversation. And by the end of that period and apparently within weeks the two children were the best of friends. A school system doing a lot of work about children telling us -- little children in 4th, 5th grade, telling me they don't look at what the color of the skin or the language of the child; but that they share, very much as this book and this letter from this young child states, they are the future, they are the ones that are going to help us begin step two.

I call our 15 months step one, or phase one, whenever I've been asked to explain to the media -- because there's no way that this Advisory Board or anybody can do all of the things that we hope to do in just 12 or 15 months that we've been doing this.

But one of the things that I wanted to play off of is that one, we have decided and we all know that education is important. We also believe that it is not enough. Economic opportunity for people is a must. When children are hungry in school, when they don't have school supplies, when the family decides that the child in high school needs to go to work and they drop out of school -- especially in the Latino community. The programs that you have recommended to enhance the chances of young children staying in school and hoping to college are important.

But my background comes as a labor person who has gone and looked at it as both a Latina and as a labor person as to what can we do. The book, our report recommends of course that we continue to work on the issue of minimum wage. Health care is an important issue for families, when they don't have the money to take care of their families and when they don't have the money to live in better housing, when they don't have money to provide that better education for their children, it makes no difference because a lot of times the people that look like me have the hardest, toughest, dirtiest jobs and get paid the minimum wage. The minimum wage is so important.

Unions do make a difference in this country. They have made a difference for many people of color in this country. When African Americans earn -- that are in unions earn 44 percent more than non-union African Americans; when Latinos who are in unions earn 50 percent more than Latinos who are not in unions -- it has to make a difference. For us, our economic opportunity takes care of the individual, but it also takes care of the family, it takes care of them in their community.

We heard many stories throughout our travels as individuals and as a board. And there is still something shameful in this country when people who look like me get asked for their papers, to see if they're citizens; who are stopped because they happen to be a different color than the police department or the people who run a particular community. There is something wrong when an African American man gets stopped at a high percentage more than anyone else, just because he happens to be the color that he is.

We have so many more things to do in step two, or phase two, of making one America and into our 21st century. And surely if we make a difference as a board, if we make a difference as individuals in whatever role of life that we are going to play, it is my hope, Governor Winter, that your grandchild and my two grandchildren will not have to face the same kind of things that we have had to face because I look the way I look.

The Chairman has told us so many stories about how he has been treated and I think all of us probably could tell the same stories. But hopefully that that America in the 21st century will treat my grandchildren much, much better and they will have many more opportunities than those in my generation.

GOVERNOR KEAN: Mr. President, let me join my colleagues in thanking you for the opportunity to serve on this commission. And beyond that, thank you for something else: being the first President in the history of this country to be willing to take on the subject of race. It comes, I know, out of a deep conviction on your part and it comes out of some beliefs and background and I thank you for that.

What we have found --I think all of us believe this -- is a reservoir of goodwill in this country that's willing now to take a big step forward. And therefore as you continue on with this initiative, I would urge you to be bold, to not back off from hard decisions, to say some controversial things because they need to be said and I think the country at this point is ready for them. You and I have worked for a long time, together in many cases, on issues of education. Nobody is born prejudiced. Something happens to somebody, somewhere along the early years that leads them in the wrong direction. So I couldn't commend you more for your education proposals. You're absolutely right in talking about smaller class size. You're absolutely right in establishing standards.

My hope is that you will expand that even and talk about help for school construction, because so many of these children cannot get educated in the conditions of their schools. And that you expand -- in the nature of education that you expand your initiative now beyond the schools. Because whether it's right or wrong, we know that people unfortunately learn more from television these days, spend more time watching it than they do talking to their parents or even more time than they spend in school.

And you have a wonderful opportunity, Mr. President, because you are probably -- have more confidence in the media community and the hollywood community than any recent President. I mean, they know you and you have credibility there. So if we're talking things like the Disney organization, perhaps about doing some better work about stereotypes and the lack of in their own -- in Disney World, Disneyland and all of that -- to work with the media, particularly in children's programming, those abominable early morning cartoons could teach a lesson somewhere in the process.

So at schools and television, and we need help from our friends in the media. And you are so unique, because having a background in education, having your southern background, having a lifetime of commitment to the issue of racial reconciliation -- there is no President certainly in my lifetime who has been more qualified to take on this issue. And believe me, not only are we all with you as you do so, I think you'll find the country is with you, as well.

MS. OH: Well, Mr. President, I'll be filing my grievance with the Chairman -- no -- (laughter.) It's been tough. I do thank you, though, and I do not see this as the end. In fact, this is one advisor who has left her job because of this initiative. You have given me this opportunity to look into the eyes of Americans across the country, to hear their voices, to hear their concerns, to share in some of the pain that's been shared in some of the meetings that we've been to.

You've given me a wonderful gift of having had the opportunity to serve with -- and please don't blush -- but really, one of the most intelligent, eloquent and wise people in the country, our Chairman. I've learned so much in just watching him, just watching how he proceeds through the most challenging of circumstances with dignity and he carries us all along with him as he does so. And Governor Winter and Governor Kean, with their experience having served the public in such an enormously meaningful way during the times that they've served, have brought for us additional insight and guidance about how we begin to proceed when the tough times do come up. And it's been a great benefit to us.

I really have quit my job. I have speeches on this subject scheduled through next June. I will be speaking to an audience of 13,000 bilingual educators in California early next year. I'm going to be speaking on the same podium as Linda Chavez and Thomas Sowell and possibly Justice Clarence Thomas in a month. I'm going to be inspired before that speech, at a time when I will be Professor Cornell West at Stony Brook.

I'm telling you that this is not the end. This is the beginning. And I don't know what format you will choose to move forward, whether it be a council, whether it be a task force, whether it be any other vehicle that you see as appropriate.

But one of the things I was thinking about to share with you today was that I would hope you would consider producing -- whatever vehicle you create -- a White House monograph on the state of race relations at the turn of the century. It would be deliverable to the American people at the end of your tenure. It would be a source to which scholars and policymakers and advocacy groups could turn. It would be several volumes in length. You could elicit contributions from people in the health care field, in mental health, in community advocacy groups, in business, education. Ask these national associations to put forward their best works that have to do with what your profession does in interfacing with people and, in particular, with the racial diversity that is emerging in their fields.

Because social workers, doctors, educators, they're all struggling with some new questions that are emerging not just because of diversity, but because of the advances we're also realizing in technology and telecommunications. Give them a chance to put that work forward. The research has already been done. And then what you can do is, if you like, when you produce this piece to the American people, maybe cite a couple of extraordinary pieces that you think are worthy of a commendation from you.

And it would be truly a legacy, because the next generation will have a place to go when they have the question, what did Americans think about race relations at the end of the 20th century. And you could bring the conservative voices to that set of volumes as well, because they should be represented, it's part of who we are.

I also wanted to share with you that I met with a bunch of ministers in the Hawaiian Islands. I went there by myself because it was really at the tail end of this time and also it's a difficult place because of the whole sovereignty thing that is going on there and there are deep feelings. But it was an extraordinary meeting because that nation -- I guess the last monarchy set aside trusts. And their priorities very much reflect ours today here on the mainland. They set aside a trust for education, for health, for the preservation of the lands, the care of elders and orphans, in particular.

And they talked about the need for a spiritual center to be realized again. And I felt that when I went around and talked to people, no matter what the coverage was in the media, no matter what particular writers chose to take out of the remarks that were shared, in the hearts of the people that you saw take the time to come and to share your most personal feelings in these public places, you saw a deep desire for this conversation to go on, and you saw a tremendous amount of appreciation and gratitude for the leadership that you asserted by choosing to make this initiative go forward. It is really just an initiative. It is the beginning, in my mind.

I'm going to teach a course on race in American society at UCLA next winter, and the approach is going to be one that's very futurist. I'm going to draw upon the materials and the wisdom of the people that I served with in these past 15 months. And one thing that I did promise some of the people that I worked with this year is that I would leave with you a couple of pieces. One is a group of students from the Hawaiian Islands put together a paper about how race is being dealt with in that particular place, so I will leave that with you. And I did a piece that is still in progress with some people at the Human Relations Commission in Los Angeles. It's a message from L.A. about race relations, a tough subject in our community.

The first piece is a narrative piece that tells you. The second piece that's in production right now is a piece that shows you how cultures are shaping each other. The foods we eat -- when you go to a Thai restaurant in Hollywood anymore, you're not going to find Thai people, you're going to find a lot of Mexicans. And you ask, "What are you doing here?" And they're saying, "Well, you know, we're a real popular place because the spices we use in our food are very similar to Thai people, but we do it with a little Mexican twist and we have a very popular clientele here that's learning about Thai food and sharing some of what we have."

You go to Chinatown and there's a Mexican immigrant woman there selling vegetables in an open-air market and she's negotiating the price in Mandarin and Cantonese. You know, it's an image that's really quite remarkable, and these are the kinds of images that are going to come up in Part 2. So I'll leave this with you and I thank you so much again for this opportunity. It was really a wonderful one, if not at times, really difficult.

DR. FRANKLIN: There's one thing Angela didn't do, she didn't tell you that she's going to write a book saying, "How Being A Member Of The Advisory Board Changed My Life." (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's here on the tape, the first chapter. (Laughter.)

MR. THOMAS: Mr. President, I want to thank you also. And as somebody actually who has been a beneficiary of white privilege, it's really kind of a surprise to me that I was chosen and had the opportunity to learn as part of this activity, and I really did. I think you can tell that we have a special relationship between the seven of us that's much more than a working relationship -- very special.

I feel kind of like the young person in Governor Winter's grandson's class when he said, "Your citizen." This has made me feel very much like "Your citizen," and I want to thank you for that.

A couple of things I want to mention, but first I wanted to also just acknowledge the outstanding work done by the Initiative Staff under Judy Winston, just unbelievable. We had great consultants, Laura and Chris, just incredible -- and your staff, Sylvia and Maria and all the people we've worked with have been unbelievable. So thank you for that.

I'll just be real quick. Some of the things that popped to my mind are education -- and I promised Judy I would use this phrase -- I think if we don't do something big, huge, tremendous, way beyond the norm, we'll just be perfuming the pig. And you understand that, of course. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: We had a long discussion about where that came from. (Laughter.) I thought I never heard it before you said it, but I like it. I'm going to use it shamelessly. (Laughter.)

MR. THOMAS: I told Judy I had some tougher ones, too, tougher analogies, but that one's a good one.

The American Indian situation, as I mentioned, I think that really hit home to me, and I think that's a situation of which most Americans just have no understanding. And I admit I'm the first one that probably should have had some understanding of it and did not. I think it cries out for some special attention.

Courage. I think anybody who is asked to lead in a way of trying to push racial diversity and inclusion needs a tremendous amount of courage. And first, I would compliment you for being our leader on that and showing the amount of courage it took for you to do what you've done with this initiative.

But I'm from the area of business, and for us to expect business leaders to compete with their natural priorities and the strains on their resources, to push an initiative like this takes a tremendous amount of courage. And so I think the bully pulpit, the nature of your leadership, I think there are some things that we could do and I pass it on through the initiative staff in the future.

Maybe there are some things we can do to support that courage. We have to find ways to raise the value of racial diversity and inclusion to the same levels as bottom-line profitability and that type of thing. And I think there is a way to value that and a way to put an importance on that, that will support the corporate leaders in their natural desire, I think, to do something that will serve this country.

So I just wanted to pass that on. And again, I'll end quickly by just saying thank you very much.

MS. COOK: Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to serve for this woman from the Bronx, for this faith leader to be represented. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you, to have worked with these distinguished colleagues who are now friends.

Thank God for a good family and children who are ages three and five. I missed many of their mornings at school, but I did that because I felt that what you were doing was so important that we might have a different America for them than myself and the generations which preceded me had. And I was enlightened by the travels that we did. I was able to see a new America emerging.

Just before your call and invitation to serve, I was in South Africa, and I sat with many of the young people there who had been at the hearings that Desmond Tutu was holding, and they were sharing how important it was for them to be able to tell their story. And what I saw as we went around America, that people were appreciative of the opportunity to finally have a place to tell their story.

As an African American woman -- and I'm a generation that is half the age of Dr. Franklin -- I only really heard about the Civil Rights movement. I was born into the midst of the momentum. And since that time, I had not really heard race be a part of the conversation of the American genre. But you gave people the opportunity to share their pain and to vent it and to have a place to discuss race. And so I thank you for opening the door, because healing can only come when the pain has a place to demonstrate and manifest itself. So I heard a lot of painful stories, but I also saw a lot of hopeful stories, and that's what America is all about -- that you have the opportunity to right the wrongs.

I saw young people who want you to be clear that they're not the lost generation and they're very much taking a leadership role in helping race to get on the table and to deal with it collaboratively and creatively. I had heard stories of my family talk about Ole Miss and James Meredith not being able to enter, and we were able to go to Oxford and have one of the highlights of this year and actually stayed on the premises.

So to see where we've come is enlightening for my generation. And finally, as a faith community leader, there were two major faith forums, the one in New Orleans with Mayor Mark Marcmorial, who is definitely on your side and will open his doors and arms wide, was the highlight of my experience; but faith leaders both on the record and off the record want to work and are working to make things better in this country. And so it's been a tremendous opportunity for me. I thank you so much for the opportunity.

There's a group of 1st graders that -- I missed my son's first week of school, but they got their picture, but not your signature. And they're studying race, and if you would sign that, we would appreciate that.

And on a personal note, this is a book called "Too Blessed To Be Stressed." And I want you to remember that, because you're -- (laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I accept that. That's great.

MS. COOK: And so we're praying for you and we thank you so much for flying on Air Force One and eating ribs with you. Thank you. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: You need to tell me how you want me to sign that and I've got a special pen and we'll sign it and I'll bring it over there.

MS. HARRIS: Mr. President, I, too, would like to thank you for the opportunity to be involved with this prestigious group. I come to my commitment about race from my Comanche values. We were small, nomadic groups that traveled around and we couldn't afford to be without any part of our society. Everybody had a strong contribution to make, and we couldn't have survived if we didn't allow everybody the opportunity to contribute to that.

I also come from the background that my son, 10-year-old son, is kind of the future face of this country. His grandparents on his father's side are Inuit Eskimo and also German national. And then from my side, of course, he gets his Comanche side, and then from my dad, it's good, old Scot-Irish-Oklahoman, who my mother affectionately calls a redneck every now and then.

But my son pointed out to us that since my work on the race initiative, he turned to her and he said, "Kaku (phonetic)," which is "grandmother" in Comanche, he said, "Kaku, we can't call Grandpa a redneck anymore, because that's racist." (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: That's a real advance. (Laughter.)

MS. HARRIS: So we don't call him a redneck anymore. But I wanted to tell you that my work on the initiative has been quite rewarding. I appreciate and am very impressed by all the advisory board members and their sensitivity and interest in Native American issues. And I've been able to make a strong contribution by ensuring that Native Americans were included in every activity and every deliberation of the Advisory Board's work. And that's reflected in the report.

I also want to compliment you on your great work in helping to institutionalize the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and tribal governments. We really appreciate your work.

DR. FRANKLIN: It was a great help to us in deliberations.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, let me just say -- I'll be very brief, because I know we're supposed to go over to this other deal and I think Linda's got to go. But I just want to thank you for doing this and for being brave enough to do it.

I knew when we started that all of us would be subject to some criticism because, number one, we couldn't solve every problem in America overnight related to race; number two, you could almost relate every problem in America to race; and number three, in a cynical and weary world, it's easy to devalue the importance of people going in good faith to raise the consciousness and quicken the conscience and kind of lift the spirits of other people and encourage them to do the right thing, and then to figure out -- it is a complex thing, figuring out how much of this is policy, how much of this is dialogue, how much of this is community, how much of this is almost spiritual.

I think you have really made a heroic effort to come to grips with all of these elements and to make this a very important milestone on America's journey here, and I hope you'll always be proud of it. I really think -- you know, it was a big risk, I knew a lot of people would say, "Well, we didn't do this, we didn't do that, we didn't do the other thing," or "we did this and it was wrong," and probably some of that criticism is valid.

But when you take it all and shake it up, I think there is no question that what we did at this moment, in the absence of a searing crisis, facing a future of incredible kaleidoscopic diversity, was very good thing for our country. And I do think that we have to keep it going and I will take all these recommendations seriously.

I hope you all meant what you said today. I hope it was a great gift for you, because for your country it was a great gift.

DR. FRANKLIN: We are deeply grateful to you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, I'll see you over there. Except Linda, who has an excused absence.

END 3:05 P.M. EDT