[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[September 30, 1997]
[Pages 1271-1274]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at a Meeting With the President's Advisory Board on Race
September 30, 1997

[John Hope Franklin, Chair of the President's Advisory Board on Race, 
introduced the President and the Vice President.]

    The President. Thank you very much, Dr. Franklin, members of the 
board, ladies and gentlemen. First let me, again, thank the board for 
its willingness to serve. And to those of you who came to Little Rock 
last week for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High, I 
thank you for coming there. It was a very important occasion, I believe, 
and one that all of us who were there felt was immensely rewarding.
    I want to talk today about how we go forward from here. When I was 
at Little Rock Central High School, after we had this magnificent 
ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the event and the original 
nine students went into the school, I went back outside and spent quite 
a long while talking to the students and the young people who were 
there. And all they talked to me about was how we were going to go 
forward. And I just listened to them.
    I think you made a very important beginning by urging that we focus 
on education and economic opportunity, things which cut across racial 
lines but are necessary to bring us together.
    One of the young men in the audience said to me that--he said, ``I 
don't think they had these gang problems 40 years ago, and I'm worried 
about that now.'' It was very touching, you know. So I think it's very 
important that we throw this into the future now, we begin to focus on 
it, and I agree that we should begin with education and economic 
    But if I could go back to the original mission of the board, I also 
think it's important that we have the facts. So this afternoon, I know 
you're going to hear from noted scientists and demographers who will 
share their research on our changing population patterns and attitudes 
on race, and I think that's an important thing.
    Secondly, I think it's important that we continue this dialog. I got 
as much out of the hour

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or so I spent after the ceremony in Little Rock just listening to the 
young people talking as I worked my way down the lines of people who 
were there as anything else. I'm going to have a townhall meeting on 
this subject on December 2d, and I will continue to do what I can to 
support you in reaching out to Americans of all backgrounds and actually 
discussing this so that we build bridges of mutual understanding and 
    But finally and in the end, we have got to decide what it is we are 
going to do. This summer I announced the first of what I hope will be a 
long series of actions consistent with the work we are doing here with 
the board when I said that we would have an initiative to send our most 
talented teachers to our most needy school districts by offering them 
scholarships for their own education if they would, in turn, teach in 
those districts for a number of years. I think that will be very 
    Later today our Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Andrew 
Cuomo, will announce new efforts to end housing discrimination in 
America. First, HUD will issue $15 million in grants to 67 private, 
nonprofit housing groups, State and local governments to combat housing 
discrimination and to promote fair housing practices. And then Secretary 
Cuomo will double the number of housing discrimination enforcement 
actions over the next 4 years.
    It's clear to me now that there is more housing discrimination in 
America than I had thought there was when I became President, and that 
that has been kept alive too long in too many neighborhoods, keeping, 
among other things, too many families from sending their children to the 
schools of their choice. So I applaud what Secretary Cuomo is doing, and 
I will strongly support him.
    Let me say again, I look forward to today's discussion. I think it's 
important that we build on that--where I thought we were at the end of 
the ceremony in Little Rock, where there was a great sense among the 
people there and I felt around the country who were watching it, a great 
sense that now we have to do things, and that every individual American 
just about is interested in this issue and understands how important it 
is and understands that we'll all have to do our part if we expect to 
come out where we want to be.
    So, Dr. Franklin, I look forward to going on with the discussion. 
And I think maybe the Vice President might like to say a word or two, 
and then we could go forward.

[The Vice President praised the President's initiative on race and 
thanked the board members for serving. He stated he had learned from 
Chairman Franklin that the question of race should be addressed by first 
acknowledging difference and establishing mutual respect, before trying 
to transcend that difference and reach out for the highest common 
denominator. He then said that he looked forward to the discussion.]

    Chairman Franklin. Well, there are two things that we could do. One 
is, we can tell you what we've done. Secondly, we can ask you if you 
want to raise any questions about what we should do or what we are 
    The President. Well, why don't you begin by telling us--giving us 
all a report on what you have done.

[Chairman Franklin introduced board member Robert Thomas, president and 
CEO of Nissan U.S.A., who said he had found that the racial issues were 
indeed real and were greatly exacerbated by issues regarding poverty. 
Board member William Winter, former Mississippi Governor, noted the 
diversity in his grandchildren's school and stated that education, 
particularly of young people, was the key to success in achieving one 
America. Board member Suzan Johnson Cook, Bronx Faith Community Church 
pastor, concurred that education and diversity were critical issues. She 
emphasized that people in the faith community had been energized by the 
initiative and were eagerly seeking ways to cooperate across 
denominational lines and also with the corporate community and the labor 
community. Board member Angela Oh, lawyer and civil rights activist, 
suggested that the initiative should be guided by compassion, vision, 
intelligence, and courage, and should welcome input from nontraditional 
sources. She noted that there were not many vehicles set up for public 
participation other than townhall meetings but that there was a lot of 
energy and interest, even among cynics. Board member Linda Chavez-
Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice president, reiterated that a lot of 
people wanted to participate in the townhall meetings and that the 
Nation's youth must be involved, and she emphasized the importance of 

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issues. Board member Thomas Kean, Drew University president, commented 
that there was no other place in the world where so many different 
groups had come to live together, resolving race and ethnic issues in a 
democratic manner, and then stated that dialog on those issues was 
extraordinarily important in itself. Chairman Franklin explained that 
the board had been working along two tracks, to emphasize shared 
aspirations, ideals, and values, and at the same time to discover 
practical ways to realize overall goals, such as the new HUD efforts to 
combat housing discrimination.]

    The President. I would just say, I think there are, in addition to 
the kind of town meeting formats and maybe--I think it's very important 
to try to see, identify, and highlight some laboratory situation--either 
laboratories because you think that people are doing something that 
works, it ought to be able to be done somewhere else. And I agree with 
Suzan--I mean what's going on in the Bronx today, if she'd told anybody 
10 years ago that this would be happening in the Bronx, nobody would 
have believed you. To what extent is that unique to the Bronx, to what 
extent is it something that could be done anywhere else, how did it 
happen--those things, I think, are important.
    There is another sort of laboratory that I think would be worth 
looking at, and I'll just give you one example. I believe now that the 
Fairfax County School District just across the river is now the most 
diverse school district in the United States. I think it has even more 
ethnic diversity than the New York or the Los Angeles or the Chicago 
school districts. I believe that's right. According to the USA Today 
article on it last week, they have kids from 182 different countries 
with over 100 different language groups in this one school district.
    Now, that goes back to Governor Winter's picture there of his 
grandchildren. It would be interesting to know, to me, I think--and 
maybe we should all go there together. I'm just giving you this as an 
example; we could go somewhere else and do the same thing. How are these 
differences dealt with within the schools for the children? How are the 
kids dealing with their diversity and their shared values? Is there an 
explicit attempt to do this? How do they get along?
    Then I would say, is their experience consistent with or 
inconsistent with their parents' experience in the workplace? What I 
have seen over time--I hate to use--a much-used buzzword is 
``empowerment,'' but what I have seen is that all these racial issues 
get much worse when people feel like they don't have any basic control 
over their lives, which is obviously why you asked us and our 
administration to focus on the economic and educational issues first.
    But I think it would be interesting to see how, in a place that is 
very much--I don't think this should be the only one--but a place that 
is very much sort of standing out in big capital letters, what the 
future might become in America: How are the kids doing? How are their 
parents doing? What is the difference in how their parents are being 
treated at work and how the kids are treated at school? Are there any 
differences? What kind of dialog goes on in the homes of these people 
between the parents and the children about their experiences at school 
and at work, and are there differences there?
    It seems to me that somehow we have to imagine how all of this is 
going to play out in the real world. And anything the Government does, 
for example, needs to really make sense in terms of how these folks' 
lives are playing out. And so I think maybe one of the things we ought 
to do is try to either organize either a set of expeditions or a 
confined set of what you might call townhall meetings with people who 
have actually lived in the kinds of circumstances that we imagine 
America's future to be. And I think that would be one suggestion that I 
have, and I'd kind of like to be a part of that, if you don't mind. 
    But anyway, I think about this all the time, because I always think 
about how we can--and Dr. Franklin and I talked about this the first 
time we visited--how we finish our sort of unfinished business and still 
recognize that time is not waiting for us and our children are being 
thrown into a world that is radically different. So that might be one 
way to proceed. I think we might learn a great deal if you could get 
some of these children and maybe even some of their parents together and 
have an honest talk about how the kids are doing in the schools, how the 
parents are doing in the workplace and in the larger society, and what 
that tells us about where we need to go in the future.

[[Page 1274]]

[Chairman Franklin commented that board members had found an enormous 
number of experiments already going on in various parts of the country 
that might be helpful.]

    The President. One of the things that I believe this group should 
strongly consider doing is actually publishing a kind of a compendium of 
those local efforts with a brief description of how they work, who the 
leader is, and how you can contact those people and let--one of the 
things we're trying to do is to replicate what works around the country. 
And I think that it's obvious that when people have challenges and 
problems, they're not going to sit around waiting for some--for the 
President or a national body or anybody else to start talking about it.
    So what I would recommend is that one of the things we consider 
doing is trying to, without pretending to be exhaustive, take--I don't 
know--20, 50, 100 of the things that you believe work the best, get a 
brief description of them, have a person who can be contacted, ask them 
if they would mind our promoting them, and find a way to publish it and 
widely disseminate this around the Nation so that we can generate more 
interest among more people in, if not copying, at least adapting what 
has worked to places where there aren't such efforts going on.
    Chairman Franklin. I think that our Executive Director already has 
some plans in that regard. Judy Winston is planning some how-to kits and 
various things like that.
    The President. Judy will get them well-published. [Laughter]

[Executive Director Winston discussed plans to provide information on 
promising practices regarding interracial dialogs to the public, not 
just in published form at the end of the board's year of study but on a 
website for immediate access and response. The Vice President then asked 
for examples of unique and particularly promising approaches to dialog 
or promoting diversity. Board members described various programs 
operating in California, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, and New 
Jersey, and encouraged further efforts by individuals, businesses, and 
labor organizations. Chairman Franklin then thanked the President and 
the Vice President for their support and their participation in the 

    The President. Thank you.
    The Vice President. Thank you very much.
    The President. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

Note: The President spoke at 10:16 a.m. in the East Room at the 
Mayflower Hotel.