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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 19, 2000
                             TO THE NATION

The East Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On February 12, 1926, as a tribute to the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, the noted African American scholar and historian, Carter G. Woodson, initiated Black History Week, the forerunner of what has become Black History Month.

This observance is important because many of the stereotypes and much of the distrust between the races are the result of historical inaccuracies or omissions that have persisted over too many years. The truth is, whether we're talking about the heroic freedom-fighting efforts of the Black Moses, Harriet Tubman, or the landmark legal accomplishments of Thurgood Marshall, we're really talking about vital aspects of all Americans' history. But too many Americans are not aware of the extraordinary contributions African Americans have made to the life of our nation, and that's a tragedy.

Together, we have come a mighty long way. Today, we're in the midst of the longest and strongest economic expansion in our nation's history -- nearly 21 million new jobs; unemployment at 4 percent, the lowest rate in 30 years; incomes up across all groups of American workers; and among African Americans, poverty and unemployment rates at the lowest levels ever recorded. Crime, which has been especially devastating to many African American neighborhoods, is now the lowest it's been in 25 years. We've cut taxes for millions of hard-pressed working families and cut the welfare rolls in half, while moving millions of people -- almost 7 million of them -- from welfare to work.

But still there are wide and disturbing disparities in health, income, perceptions of justice and educational achievements that break down along the color line. It is clear we must do more to close these gaps and give all our citizens a chance both to contribute to and share in our growing prosperity and promise. That is one of the reasons I created a One America Office in the White House last year, and why the Vice President and I have worked so hard to bring loans and new investments to distressed communities, through empowerment zones, the Community Reinvestment Act, community development banks, and now, through our New Markets Initiative.

Especially we need to make sure our young people are prepared for this new economy, by helping every child enter school ready to learn and graduate ready to succeed. More Americans -- and more African Americans -- are going on to college than ever before. But we must give every child that chance and we must help their families shoulder the burden.

Today I'm pleased to announce that the Department of Labor is awarding $223 million in Youth Opportunity grants to bring education and job training to up to 44,000 young people in 36 communities -- from Watts to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This will provide a lifeline of opportunity to any young person willing to work for a better future. And it's a key component of our broader Youth Opportunity agenda.

We've requested an increase of $1.3 billion this year to bring an array of education and training assistance to at-risk youth, from the Gear-Up and TRIO mentoring and support programs to get more kids on the right track to success, to an increase in Pell grants to help more of them afford the cost of college.

These Youth Opportunity grants will draw on the experience and dedication of people like Jacquelene Sharp Massey of Baltimore's Career Academy. For 20 years, Jacquelene has made history of her own by helping literally hundreds of young people to turn their lives around -- people like 20-year-old Michael Dupree, who, with the help of the Academy, has gone from being a high school dropout to a biotechnology lab assistant and a member of Baltimore's Youth Council.

Sixty years ago today, the Army Air Corps activated its second squadron of African American fighter pilots in Tuskegee, Alabama. That squadron and three others fought fascism in the air, and racism on the ground. As Tuskegee Airmen, the sky was their limit. And they helped to lead the way to this modern digital age in which there are virtually no limits to how high our people can fly. Their story is a precious contribution to our common history, and very much worth remembering this Black History Month.

Their belief in an America that would respect their courage and honor their service is the foundation of the America we all want to live in -- one where every person is treated with dignity and respect, and all our children have the chance to live their dreams.

That's the America we should work for in the new millennium. Thank's for listening.