WASHINGTON, July 16, 2009 -- In themes similar to campaign trail rhetoric, President Obama will speak about personal responsibility tonight when he addresses the NAACP's 100th anniversary dinner in New York City.
White House aides say the president's remarks in front of the nation's oldest civil rights organization will focus on the need to recapture the same sense of responsibility in Washington and in one's personal life that made the civil rights movement a success.
The president will touch on education and the need for better standards in schools, excellent teachers, and parents doing their part to ensure that all children can succeed, no matter what their race, faith or station in life, White House aides say.
In remarks at the NAACP annual conference in the height of the campaign last year, then-Sen. Obama similarly pitched a message of tough love and personal responsibility.
"I know there's some who've been saying I've been too tough talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report, I'm not gonna stop talking about it," Obama said before the dinner in Cincinnati in July 2008.
"No matter how much money we invest in our communities, how many 10-point plans we propose, how many government programs we launch -- none of it will make a difference, at least not enough of a difference, if we also at the same time don't seize more responsibility in our own lives. Dr. King understood this, Dr. King talked about it's not an either or proposition, it's a both and proposition. We need societal responsibility and we need individual responsibility. We need politicians doing what they're supposed to do and CEO's doing what they're supposed to do, and we need parents doing what they're supposed to do."
A Homecoming Of Sorts
Tonight's highly anticipated address is the president's first speech to a traditional African American audience since taking office -- causing a major level of expectation in the speech six months into his presidency.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs downplayed the notion that tonight's speech is a first by the first African American U.S. president.
"I think the first speech to black America and the first speech to white America, the first speech to America, was the inaugural address," Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the president will touch on the work the administration has done on the economy, health care and education for black America.
At last year's NAACP address, Obama promised the group that he would be back for their 100-year anniversary celebration as president.
"I will come back to you next year on that anniversary and I will stand before you as the president of the United States of America," he said. "And at that moment, you and I will truly know that a new day has come in this country we love. "
Obamas appearance will be a homecoming of sorts to a community that has been lifted up by the election of the first African American president.
In March, Obama acknowledged that he recognizes the pride that African Americans have taken because of his election.
"Obviously at the inauguration I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country," the president told ABC News' Ann Compton at a March press conference. "But that lasted about a day, and, you know, right now the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged, and that is are we taking the steps to improve liquidity in the financial markets, create jobs, get businesses to reopen, keep America safe. And that's what I've been spending my time thinking about."
Changing Mission of the NAACP?
Obama's address this evening comes at a time when the NAACP is going though organizational changes -- in part spurred by the group's leadership.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous has been advocating for the group to expand its work to broader human rights causes, not only African American causes.
White House aides said that the president would briefly touch on this "continuation" of the NAACP's mission.
"The speech he's been working on for about two weeks," Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters flying to New York on Air Force One today, "It's about, in large part, the courage that it took to start the NAACP 100 years ago, and some of the things that they've gone through in the organization and in the community and what the next 100 years looks like."
The president's address tonight at the Hilton Hotel in New York City follows a week of prominent speakers including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Attorney General Eric Holder.
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond will receive the Spingard Medal this evening, the organization's highest honor.