On Tuesday, January 25th, 2005, I met with President George W. Bush on "the state of Black America. And while every American should respond to a call from their President to meet, about anything, this was particularly close to me because of the topic, and the timing. His first meeting since the inauguration. The same week of his meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. A couple weeks prior to his State of the Union Address. Black America leading every negative indicator you can imagine in 2005 — this was my meeting! Getting there would be something else altogether. You see, the same week I was invited for the first time as a delegate to the World Economic Forum, and as one of 237 individuals of more than 8,000 candidates selected to become a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders.
And so…how can you be two places at one time!! Well, of course I made it work. I fly to Davos, Switzerland on Saturday, made sure my sweetie, Mrs. Sheila Kennedy-Bryant, was in good hands, and returned on Monday to the states for the meeting at the White House on Tuesday (returning back to Davos, Switzerland on TUESDAY EVENING!). It was all worth it.
The meeting started at 1pm with three of us meeting with the President briefly in the Oval Office. It was there that I first mentioned to the President that his work and public policy agenda around an "Ownership Society," could in fact become part of a legitimate social movement. That we were standing in a moment in history. That the 20th century was about "race and the color line," or civil rights, all over the world, and the first civil right was the right to vote (thank you Dr. Marting Luther King, Jr, Ambassador Andrew Young and others). That said, we are living today in an economic era, and the 21st century was going to be defined by issues of "class and poverty," or what I call the silver rights movement. The first silver right of the 21st century is financial literacy. "If you don’t know better, you cannot do better…" The President listened, and then he agreed. Mentioning to me that this was not much different than his call for basic literacy, with his efforts around No Child Left Behind. I was also surprised during this brief time together to get a sense of a side of the President that few see if this serious time we live in. The man is FUNNY! I grew to genuinely like and appreciate him over the hour, almost two (more on this later), that we spent together on Tuesday. Of course, I have seen him several times before this, but this was the most intimate, the most connected and focused. The most real. This was "either you are doing it, or you are not" time, with respect to the Black agenda.
Anyway, we left the Oval Office, with Karl Rove (this man is smart!), the new domestic policy advisor Claude Allen, and other close aides in tow, and headed down a hall, down some stairs, around corners, through some doors, across a street (the bullet proof sort), up some stairs and into the Old Executive Office Building, formerly the Department of War building back in the day. After walking a couple more halls we finally made our way into the entry area (actually, we overshot it, but of course no one bumped into the President! He was walking with such force and sense of purpose and direction we just followed him and I guess no one was paying attention actually WHERE we were going…) for our closed door session with 20 select Black leaders from business, faith and community. As we walked into the room (beautiful, the room, I might add) I was right behind him — and I was blinded almost immediately by the flashing lights of what had to be 20 to 30 photographers. After a few minutes for the press to get their photos, they were ushered out, and we got down to the business at hand… (more later).