The first African-American U.S. President has told the nation's largest civil rights organization he has benefited from the sacrifices of America's civil rights pioneers. President Barack Obama spoke Thursday before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, marking its 100th anniversary.
President Obama told the NAACP convention in New York there has never been less discrimination in America than today, but the pain of discrimination is still felt.
"By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender," said President Obama. "By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."
The president said more progress is also needed on reforming education, health care and employment equality. He said although extraordinary progress has been made, African-Americans are still disproportionately affected by unemployment and poor health care. And the president said a black child is about five times as likely as a white child to eventually be sent to jail.
Mr. Obama honored civil rights leaders throughout U.S. history, from NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois to Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, for paving the way for his election as president.
Mr. Obama called on today's Americans to honor those pioneers' spirit and break down the remaining racial barriers.
"If three civil rights workers in Mississippi-black, white, Christian and Jew, city-born and country-bred-could lay down their lives in freedom's cause, I know we can come together to face down the challenges of our own time," said Mr. Obama. "We can fix our schools, heal our sick, and rescue our youth from violence and despair."
The president emphasized the importance of improving education in fighting America's remaining racial disparities. He said there is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than a good education.
Mr. Obama challenged the audience to take greater responsibility for their children's education, and for the quality of schools in their communities. He also urged parents to encourage their children to have aspirations beyond sports and music.
"Our kids cannot all aspire to be [basketball star] LeBron [James] or [rapper] Li'l Wayne," said President Obama. "I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be President of the United States."
The president's address before the NAACP is his first speech directly tackling the issue of race since he took office in January.