U.S. blacks try to turn pride over Obama into gains

Wed Apr 15, 2009 11:47am EDT
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By Alyce Hinton

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Black American community workers are wrestling with how to translate their pride over Barack Obama's presidency into tangible gains for a racial minority that often lags behind the rest of the country.

Community organizations in America's inner cities offer support to low-income people through soup kitchens, basic education, employment, homeless shelters and services for women and children.

Their role gained prominence during the 2008 presidential election because Obama made frequent references to his previous job as a community organizer in Chicago and argued it gave him insight into the concerns of ordinary Americans.

Many community workers say the election of the first African American president presents a unique opportunity but also a challenge: how to leverage the optimism generated by his example into something more than a few heartwarming stories.

The challenge is made more acute by the worst U.S. recession in decades, which researchers say has hit blacks harder because they have fewer assets, higher levels of unemployment and lower incomes than the national average.

That has increased demand for services among many charities serving African Americans while placing pressure on funding.

Interviews with community group leaders in U.S. cities show a mixed response to the question of whether Obama's leadership was making a difference to their work on the ground.

Entrepreneur Frederick Moore, who financed a shelter for 20 homeless men in greater Chicago, said Obama's election vindicated his initial commitment and had prompted him to rededicate himself to a project started years earlier.   Continued...

<p>President Barack Obama speaks about the economy at Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in Washington April 14, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing</p>