Speaks to Community Leaders in Los Angeles
First African Methodist Episcopal Renaissance Center
Los Angeles, California
April 29, 2002
4:01 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all very much. My fellow Americans. (Laughter.)
I'm honored to be here. I want to thank you, John, very much for your leadership
and your vision. It's nice to see your mother here. (Laughter.) My mother is
still telling me what to do, too. (Laughter.) I'm sure you're listening. (Laughter.)
So am I.
I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come and just share some thoughts
with you about what's on my mind. I want to thank Reverend Murray. (Applause.)
I want to thank him for riding back from the airport with me and sharing his
thoughts and his vision and his hope.
I want to thank John Mack. (Applause.) John's reputation had preceded him, and
he managed to even make it to the state of Texas. (Laughter.) He's a great leader
of the Urban League, and I want to thank him for his visionary and steadfast
leadership. As John told me, the aftermath of the civil unrest as part of the
world began to rebuild, becoming a more hopeful place, and John quickly pointed
out, partly because of the leadership of the two men I just named. And I want
to thank them for being such solid citizens in a community that needed leadership.
I want to thank, as well, Charles Kim and Antonio Hernandez for inviting me
and helping set up what has been a very interesting and important discussion
for me. You see, the President is -- can still learn. And I try to learn and
absorb what's best about America so I can share it with other Americans. And
the spirit of the discussion we had was important for me to see and hear. I
wish all of America could have heard how optimistic and hopeful people were.
These are folks from the religious community, community-based community, the
business leaders. We had bankers. We've got some entrepreneurs that are -- and
I know a little something about entrepreneur -- the entrepreneurial spirit,
and these were the entrepreneurs' entrepreneurs. (Laughter.) I want to thank
them for telling me their stories.
You know, I firmly believe God is on the side of justice and reconciliation.
But as Martin Luther King said, God isn't going to do it all by Himself. (Applause.)
And I like to put it this way, that these good folks are soldiers in the armies
of compassion. We had some generals, we had some sergeants, we had some privates,
but all of them a part of this army. All of them anxious to make the American
experience sent throughout all neighborhoods. And I feel the same way.
I fully understand that 10 years ago this city, because of some violence --
a lot of violence -- saw incredible destruction in lives and in property. Mr.
Kim was talking about the dashed dreams of many of the Korean entrepreneurs.
A lot of hopes were lost. The violence and the lawlessness always affects the
most poor, always hurts the weakest. And yet out of this violence and ugliness
came new hope. And we discussed that today.
I want to congratulate this city. Mr. Mayor, you're the Mayor of a great city.
(Applause.) And I want to congratulate the leaders here, and the people here,
to show the rest of the country what is possible, what can happen, what is possible
in America when people put aside differences and focus on what's best for all.
And that's what I heard today at the table. We talked about economic development.
I believe strongly it's important for people to learn to own, own their own
business. And we talked about the hurdles between ownership and reality, and
what the government can do about those hurdles.
I heard from bankers talking about the CRA and how to make that more effective.
I heard from shopping center developers who believe strongly, and understand
fully, that investment in South Central L.A. is a, first and foremost, good
business policy. And it obviously is good social policy, as well. And I want
to thank them for sharing that with me.
I heard about the Renaissance Program. (Applause.) More than once did I hear
about it. (Laughter.) I was about ready to sign up. (Laughter.) We talked about
education. I like to put it this way: Reading is the new civil right. Because
if you can't read, you cannot possibly be educated; and if you're not educated,
you can't succeed. And so in order to make sure -- (applause) -- in order to
make sure that everybody -- and I mean everybody -- I don't care how you vote,
everybody gets a shot. We've got to make sure that everybody gets educated.
And there is a role for the federal government to play. We fund, and that's
important. But I firmly believe that the federal government and local governments
must expect the best from every child. I mean the best. Every child can learn.
I refuse to accept a system that quits on certain children because it's deemed
-- they're deemed to be too hard to educate. (Applause.)
We must determine as a society whether our children are learning or not. And
if they're not, we've got to insist upon change. We can't have a system that
just simply shuffles children through. That's got to end if we're going to make
sure that every child gets educated in America.
I am passionate on the subject of education. I also am wise enough to know that
all wisdom doesn't exist in Washington, D.C. We can write a pretty good check,
but we ought not to be telling the local folks how to chart the path to excellence.
We ought to be encouraging educational and social entrepreneurs to get involved
with the education of every single child. And when there's failure, we need
to blow the whistle on failure. And when we find success, we need to praise
We talked about after-school programs. Big Lou Danzler was talking about the
Challenger Boys and Girls Clubs, and I want to thank Lou for his leadership.
We talked about -- we talked about faith, and the importance of faith in our
society. Now, I don't want government to be the church, and I don't want the
church to be the government. But government should not fear faith and faith-based
programs. Government should not worry about programs that come out of church
or synagogue or a mosque, all aimed at loving a neighbor just like you'd like
to be loved yourself. The universal call to love is something to be nourished,
And I -- there is a role for government. When we fund programs, we ought not
to discriminate against faith-based programs. (Applause.) And we ought not to
cause the faith-based program to have to change its mission in order to receive
any money. Otherwise it won't be a faith-based program. It will fall into the
old government program.
See, government can hand out money. But government cannot put hope in people's
hearts. It cannot put faith in people's lives. And faith is a powerful -- faith
is a powerful motivator. Many a program relies upon faith, and we ought to welcome
the faith-based programs into the compassionate delivery of help.
I know firsthand. I know what faith can mean in somebody's life. That's why
I remind people I'm just a humble sinner who sought redemption. And I -- (applause)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Preach, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to get too far. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well -- (laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: You know, we have a chance to show the world that out of the
evil that was done on September the 11th can come incredible good. I believe
that, I truly do. I believe that by being firm and tough when it comes to hunting
down killers, that eventually we can help bring peace to the world. That is
my goal. I want the children and their children's children to grow up in a peaceful
world. And I think we can do that. I do. (Applause.)
And we can show the world the true face of America, as well. Oh, it's a diverse
face, no question about it, which is our strength, not our weakness. But it's
a face that can be bound by common goals and common values. It's a face that
can stand squarely in the face of evil by the collective acts of people doing
good in America.
And that's what I heard today. The great hope of the country really isn't the
government. The great hope of the country lies in the hearts and souls of our
people. You've showed it in this community. Ten years after civil unrest that
made history, the community is rebuilding herself with great hope and great
And that's an important lesson. It's an important lesson not only for other
communities, it's an important lesson for our whole country, because out of
the evil that was done on September the 11th can come incredible good. And it's
So my job as the President is to rally -- rally the spirit of the nation, and
to thank those who are integrally involved in helping people help themselves.
I want to thank John again for such a kind invitation. I am so honored that
you would invite me, a Texan -- (laughter) -- to come right here to L.A., and
to herald what is possible.
You know, we live in a great country. (Applause.) I mean, the greatest country
on the face of the Earth. I'm proud of America. I'm proud of our country. I'm
proud of what we stand for. Oh, I know there's pockets of despair. That just
means we've got to work harder. It means you can't quit. It means we've got
to rout it out with love and compassion and decency. But this is the greatest
country on the face of the Earth. And it is such an honor to be the President
of such a great land.
Thank you all for coming today. (Applause.) May God bless you. May God bless