ABC News' Jordyn Phelps reports:
President Obama spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus Phoenix Awards Dinner Saturday night and used the opportunity to push his healthcare reform agenda and address issues that the president says affect the African American community on a disproportionate scale.
Several high-level administration officials were in attendance at the formal awards ceremony held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, including Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
Ambassador Rice was one of the recipients of a Phoenix award, and after congratulating all award recipients, Obama singled Rice out as a recipient whose merit he could “personally vouch for.”
Obama remarked on the progress of the African American community, and contrasted his accomplishment of becoming the first black president with the story of the first African American Congressman George White. The president quoted White’s farewell address to Congress after he decided not to seek reelection.
“This … is perhaps the negroe's temporary farewell to the American Congress, but let me say Phoenix light,” Obama quoted White as saying. “We will rise up someday and come again.”
The president added that while the African American community has made progress, there is still work that remains undone.
He pointed out that African Americans have been particularly hard hit by the economic recession, but said the issue of economic inequality between black and white Americans precedes the recent recession.
“Communities were struggling to catch up long before this storm economic storm hit,” Obama said. “That kind of economic inequality is unacceptable in the United States of America.”
The president also addressed issues that are of particular concern among the African American community, such as high school dropout rates, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.
One of the central issues that the president addressed in his remarks was health care, saying that “now’s the time” for reform.
“We’ve been waiting since the days of Teddy Roosevelt; we’ve been waiting since the day of Harry Truman; we’ve been waiting since Johnson and Nixon and Clinton,” Obama said. “We cannot wait any longer.”
The audience interrupted the President’s speech several times with applause and an occasional standing applause.
First lady Michelle Obama attended the awards dinner with the president and came on stage briefly when he was introduced. She wore a black evening gown that hit just below her knees, completed with diamond bangles on her wrist.
The president and first lady did not mingle at the black-tie event. Immediately after the president’s address, they returned to the White House.
– Jordyn Phelps