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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release April 25, 1999
                       BY VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
                      NAACP DETROIT METRO CHAPTER

                        Sunday, April 25, 1999

As I was preparing to come here tonight, I realized something remarkable. This is the very last time the Detroit chapter will meet in the 1900s. So tonight, let us first pause to look back on a legacy of struggle for justice and righteousness that has truly defined this Century. And then let us look forward with commitment and dedication to the work that lies ahead.

The history we remember tonight is long. But the cord that connects us to ages past is short. If you close your eyes and listen to Mayor Archer, you can feel the passion of Booker T. Washington. Lean back and listen to Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, and you can feel the leadership of Shirley Chisolm. Listen to John Conyers, and you can hear the justice of Thurgood Marshall. If you wonder what it was like to talk to Fannie Lou Hammer, spend a few minutes talking to Mrs. Bullah Work. If you wonder what Roy Wilkins was like, spend a few minutes with Dr. Lionel Swann. If you wonder about the wisdom of Mother Pollard, you'll get the same good advice from Mrs. Irene Graves.

Although she is not here tonight, I know you are proud to have as a member of this chapter a true American legend, not just to African Americans, but to all Americans -- Ms. Rosa Parks. Thanks to the leadership of the Michigan Congressional Delegation -- with a vote taken just this week -- Rosa Parks now joins Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Robert Kennedy as one of the few Americans to receive our highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

I feel a connection to that struggle and to the NAACP in a personal way. You see, I was raised to believe in racial justice and civil rights.

My father was a United States Senator from the South who had courage. He fought against the poll tax in the 1940's, and for civil rights in the 1950's. He was one of only two Senators to refuse to sign the hateful Southern Manifesto. He voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and he voted against Supreme Court nominees whose commitment was suspect. And those brave stands probably cost him his career.

I remember when I was eight years old, we lived in a little house on Fisher Avenue, halfway up a hill. At the top of the hill was a big old mansion. One day, as the property was changing hands, the neighbors were invited to an open house. My father said: "Come, son, I want to show you something." So we walked up the hill and through the front door.

But instead of stopping in the parlor, or the ornate dining room, or the grand staircase with all the other guests, my father took me down to the basement and pointed to the dark, dank stone walls -- and the cold metal rings lined up in a row.

Slave rings.

I thank God that my father taught me to love justice. Not everyone was eager to learn. One unreconstructed constituent once said, in reference to African Americans -- though that was not the term he used -- "I don't want to eat with them, I don't want to live with them, I don't want my kids to go to school with them." To which my father replied gently: "Do you want to go to heaven with them?"

After a brief pause came the flustered response: "No, I want to go to hell with you and Estes Kefauver."

We need to know that history. We need to recognize just how far we have come in this century -- toward that more perfect union we all seek for our children. But now we must take stock of the present -- and we must look to the future. The next time you meet, it will be the dawn of not just a new century, but a whole new era in human history.

Will we build on the progress of this century toward justice and tolerance and inclusion? Will we make the 21st Century the brightest time our nation has ever seen?

In the 20th Century, we broke down barriers and overcame discrimination in our laws. We learned along the way that sometimes, good laws aren't good enough.

Tonight, I pledge to you: if you stand with me, we will lead America into a 21st Century where we break down barriers not just in our lawbooks -- but also in our workplaces, in our schoolhouses, in our police stations -- and in the human heart.

We've made a lot of progress these past six years: more African-American business owners, homeowners, and CEO's than ever before. African-American poverty and unemployment are at their lowest point in recorded history. The doors to college open wider than ever before. We're bringing long-overdue justice to America's black farmers. And over the past six years, our administration has named more African-Americans to Cabinet seats, judgeships, and high posts than any administration in history.

As the NAACP has taught us for 90 years, we are not successful as a nation in spite of our diversity -- we are successful because of it.

But let's be honest: we have a lot of unfinished business ahead of us.

Today, an African American child is one and a half times more likely to grow up in a family whose head did not finish high school. Two times as likely to be born to a teen mother. Two and a half times more likely to be born at low birthweight. Three times more likely to live in a single parent home. Four times more likely to have a mother who had no prenatal care. And nine times more likely to be a victim of a homicide.

I'll tell you: those numbers should weigh on our national consciousness as strongly as the number "three-fifths" did 150 years ago.

To borrow from your theme, I want a "level playing field" in America.

Tonight, I want to present four ideas -- things we can do right now -- to make this nation more equal and open for all Americans. I am here tonight to ask you to stand with me, and help me put them into practice.

The first thing I want to ask you to do is help me expand economic opportunity and tap the untapped markets of America's cities -- because I believe America's inner cities are America's hidden jewel.

That begins with a strong, job-creating economy -- one that leaves no one behind, keeps interest rates low, and does even more to help African-American-owned businesses invest and grow. I was proud last year to call on the Small Business Administration to guarantee a record $3.5 billion in loans to African-American and Hispanic-American businesses by the year 2000. But we need to do more.

Expanding opportunity also means opening new markets around the world -- and saying as loud as we can: yes, trade with Africa is good for America.

But let's be clear: some of the greatest untapped markets for our products today aren't halfway around the world, they're halfway down the street, in our inner cities and urban communities.

We need to light up our neglected neighborhoods with the spark of private investment. I am proud that I have led our Empowerment Zone initiative, which has brought more than $2 billion of new investment to Detroit.

Now I call on Congress to fully fund our second round of Empowerment Zones, which have the potential to create 90,000 jobs and stimulate more than $20 billion in public and private investment. Let's give our cities the hope and opportunity they deserve.

We've also proposed a new $15 billion markets initiative to get more start-up capital into the hands of people who need it. This initiative will help create more than just jobs -- it will also create more black-owned businesses in America's cities, and I urge Congress to pass it.

It will also do one other thing: it will help more minority women smash through the glass ceiling. At a time when African-Americans earn just 62 cents on each dollar that white Americans earn, don't you think it's time for an equal day's pay for an equal day's work?

The second thing I want you to help me do is to protect civil rights in America, including affirmative action. I've heard the critics of affirmative action. They're in favor of affirmative action if you can dunk the basketball or sink a three-point shot. But they're not in favor of it if you merely have the potential to be a leader of your community and bring people together, to teach people who are hungry for knowledge, to heal families who need medical care.

I have a different view: America still needs affirmative action. And while scientists work to slow down the speed of light, all of us need to work to speed up the speed of justice. People like Martin Luther King died to give us the civil rights laws on the books today. The least we can do is enforce them.

Last year, from Dr. King's pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church, I was proud to announce the largest increase in civil rights enforcement in nearly two decades. I fought for that increase, and we won it last year. But were not done: Congress still won't vote to confirm Bill Lann Lee as head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. We know he's qualified. We know there is work to be done. So I say to Congress: let's give Bill Lann Lee the up-or-down vote he deserves.

Civil rights include basic rights, too -- and that includes the right to be treated with respect.

Now, I am proud of our nation's law enforcement. I'm proud of the 100,000 new community police we are putting on our streets, and the work they are doing to protect all of our families.

But I want to be perfectly clear: the strong arm of justice must also respect justice. I am outraged by recent reports of "racial profiling." DWI is a crime in this nation. DWB shouldn't be. It is wrong to pigeon-hole and punish innocent citizens on the basis of race. It is wrong to stereotype somebody as a suspect simply because of the color of their skin.

Let be very clear: I believe we should abolish racial profiling in America. And any police department in America that is using it should stop right now.

Right now, our administration is exploring this issue -- to see what we can do to help end this hateful practice, once and for all.

While we work to protect rights, the third thing I want you to do is to help me give every child in this country a world-class education.

Who in this room tonight believes we need revolutionary change in our public schools?

Who believes we can do a better job of working with the parents and teachers who want to see real reform -- not ten years from now, after their child graduates, but right away?

Then stand with me for the change our children deserve.

Most of our kids in urban schools are ready to learn and ready to study. But how can we expect them to learn the skills they need for the future if 26 percent of our urban teachers who teach math have never studied math? If 40 percent who teach chemistry have never studied chemistry? And 71 percent who teach physics haven't studied physics?

How can we expect them to get the attention they need if there are 35 other students shoehorned into the classroom? How can we build the experienced, highly-trained teaching corps we need for our future when nearly half the teachers in poor, minority schools leave after only three years?

How can we expect them to learn the Internet if in some urban schools, you blow the circuits if you even plug in a computer? African-American children are 40 percent less likely to use a computer at home. We didn't tear down the cotton curtain in this country to replace it with a digital divide.

I will fight to bring more accountability in our school system. That's why I'm working right now to pass the President's plan to turn around failing schools, and narrow the disparities in our education system. To end the social promotion that is only failing our children. To raise up standards -- and give students and teachers more of the tools to meet them. To rebuild crumbling schools, and hire 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes in the early grades. To bring more discipline and character education to the classroom.

At the beginning of the 21st Century, I'll tell you what else I want to do:

I want to reduce class sizes not just in the early grades, but in all grades. I want to make pre-school available to every child, in every community in America. I want to cut in half the achievement gap between rich and poor, and between racial and ethnic groups.

And at a time when our nation is becoming more diverse, I am deeply committed to the goal of integration. Today, more than one-third of all black and Hispanic students attend schools with greater than 90 percent minority enrollment. A minority student is 16 times more likely than a white student to be in a high-poverty school. I say we should use voluntary tools such as charter schools, magnet schools, and public school choice to seek more diversity, not less, in our schools. Schools are our best hope to break the chains of racial isolation in our nation.

Some people say "be patient." But it's too late to be patient. Our children will not be young forever, and their future won't wait. We need to fix our schools today. Stand with me, and we will.

We need a strong economy. We need revolutionary change in our schools. But our children can't reach for their dreams if they're ducking for cover. The tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado shows just how much more work we must do -- to make our communities safe, to banish violence and hate, and to replace a culture of violence with a culture of values.

And this is the fourth thing I want you to help me do. Help me build a safer society and safer schools for all our children.

I just came from Littleton, Colorado, where I met with the families of the children who were brutally slain last week at Columbine High School. Included among the dead was a 17 year-old boy named Isaiah, who was killed simply because he was black.

Julian Bond likes to say that when he was a child, bad boys fought with knives, not automatic weapons. And crack was something that, if you stepped on it, would break your mothers' back.

For parents, last Tuesday's tragedy yielded more questions than answers: how do two teenage boys get their hands on TEC-9 assault weapons, sawed off shotguns, and pipe bombs?

I want to work with you to change a popular culture that glorifies violence and mayhem. We must cut off our young people's easy access to guns and deadly weapons. We must invest in the programs that prevent our children from turning to a life of crime and drugs in the first place.

I call on Congress to pass a new initiative to help schools hire and train 2,000 new community police officers -- to work closely with teachers and students to prevent violence. Let's pass it into law.

And I believe we need more drug counselors and violence prevention coordinators in our middle schools. I have seen the work that is being done through peer mediation and violence prevention programs -- and it is cooling tempers and saving lives. I call on Congress to work with us and hire another 1,300 drug counselors and violence prevention coordinators across the country.

And I'll tell you what my wife Tipper would say if she were here. She would say: "Al, don't forget to tell them this: when a first-grade teacher sees a new class of students the first week of the year, they can tell you at the end of that first week that one, two, or three of those kids are troubled already, even at that age. And we need to have more resources devoted to community mental health centers and mental health treatment and mental health counseling for families that need it."

These are some of the things we must do at the national level. But we all know: responsibility begins in the home.

Parents, we've got to talk to our children. We've got to know what's going on in our children's lives. If a child is making pipe bombs in the garage, we've got to know about it. We've got to teach them right from wrong. And we must teach them that embracing the right values can transcend a moment's cheap sensation. Or a sudden impulse of hatred and revenge. Or the easy surge of power learned from a violent culture with too few anchors, too little family stability, and a dearth of spiritual nurturing.

It's not just the responsibility we have to our children -- it's the responsibility we have to each other.

We've all got to take a role in our children's lives. Parents, take your child to school. Meet your child's teachers. Trade phone numbers with other parents and teachers. Turn off the television at night. Help them with their homework. Pick up their report cards. Play a role in their lives.

Ladies and gentlemen, stand with me, and help me do these four things. For if we can build a nation of opportunity through jobs and education, and a nation of safety and justice through and strong values, then we can reach for our highest aspirations. Then we can build that more perfect union our founders envisioned.

I believe that God's hand has touched the United States of America -- not by accident, but on purpose. He has given us not just a chance, but a mission, to prove to men and women throughout this world that people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, of all faiths and creeds, can not only work and live together, but can enrich and ennoble both themselves and our common purpose.

We don't need more division in America. We don't need more scapegoats. What we need is more love and understanding and cooperation. We need to work together on solutions, to give our children and our families the future they deserve.

Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets."

So let us not be weary in well-doing as we address the unfinished agenda of NAACP. Let us make his dream our agenda for action. And always remember, in the words of the hymn:

"In Christ there is no East or West, In him, no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth."

"Join hands, disciples of the faith, whatever your race may be, who serves my father as a child is surely kin to me."