NEW YORK – President Obama heaped effusive praise upon Rev. Al Sharpton during the National Action Network’s 20th Annual Conference in Manhattan, telling the civil rights leader that only his weight has changed in the two decades, but not his devotion to uplifting disenfranchised urbanites all across America.
“I told Reverend Al backstage he’s getting skinnier than me. He’s getting skinnier than Spike [Lee],” he said to raucous laughter. “But he hasn’t lost his sense of style. The other thing that hasn’t changed is the National Action Network’s commitment to fight injustice and inequality here in New York City and across America. And that’s not only a testament to Reverend Sharpton. I want to commend you for the work that you’ve done over the last two decades to lift up not only the African American community, but the broader American family. That’s what you’re about.”
Obama prepared a gumbo of a speech during the dinner gala, helping the overflowing crowd digest grave issues by mixing in the names of iconic sports figures and entertainers in attendance (like Magic Johnson, Bill Cosby, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Jim Brown and Russell Simmons) and sprinkling in large dashes of humor to drive home his points about the economy and the welfare of urban America.
“I was talking to Magic [Johnson] right before we came out — I was talking about the Bulls, of course,” the passionate First Fan said to loud laughter. “He’s still picking the Lakers, but he made the point, a young man, Derek Rose, upped his game, worked hard, and is having an MVP season. Well, we have to do that in classrooms, we have to do that in the workplaces, we’ve got to do that in our communities and our neighborhoods. Our fathers got to up their games.”
Obama also focused heavily on inequality in health care, jobs and education during his 20-minute speech. He took subtle jabs at his conservative opponents who want to rob him of any credit now that the economy is cranking back to life for the first time in three years.
“We didn’t fully realize until late in the game, probably the last month of the  campaign, that we would be facing the worst recession in generations — a recession that was leaving millions of Americans without a home, without a job, without hope for the future,“ he said. “And as Reverend Al said, some folks have amnesia about this. Where are we two years later? Our economy has started to grow again. The recovery is gaining momentum. People are finally starting to get hired back.”
The heir apparent to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” echoed a theme that his predecessor touched on before his death in 1968.
“There are times when change can seem painfully slow,” he said. “In those moments, when we start asking ourselves if change is possible, we need to remember what we’ve done over the past few years.” –terry shropshire