countdown to President Obama’s last one hundred days began on
October 13. Already, the President has committed to spending his
waning days in office by campaigning for Hillary Clinton, the
Democratic nominee for President. Indeed, he has put his legacy on
the line, telling Black people at a his last Congressional Black
Caucus dinner that he will be personally insulted if folks don’t
get out to vote for Hillary. Instead of staking his legacy, however,
President Obama might be better advised to improve his legacy by
taking bold actions in these last days of his presidency.
might he do to positively affect the African Americans he far too
frequently scolds? For one thing, he might step up the pace of the
pardons and sentence commutations for nonviolent drug offenders, who
are disproportionately African American. In 2011, then-Attorney
General Eric Holder said there were as many as 10,000 federal drug
offenders that could be released. While President Obama has offered
pardons and commutations, only a fraction of those whose sentences
could be commuted have been. For whatever reason, the Department of
Justice has moved at a snail’s pace with commutations.
President Obama could direct Attorney General Loretta Lynch to bring
more pardon applications to his desk. He would make a tremendous
impact if the number of nonviolent drug offenders with sentences
pardoned or commuted were closer to 10,000 than 1000.
Obama might also consider a posthumous pardon for Marcus Garvey, the
Jamaican-born activist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement
Association (UNIA). At its peak, UNIA had millions of members in
1100 chapters in 40 countries. Garvey was wrongfully convicted of
mail fraud and deported from the United States in 1923. Garvey was
really only guilty of loving Black people and organizing us.
President Obama could lift up an organizer, correct a historical
wrong, and signal that he is not as indifferent to Black people as he
sometimes seems. Such a small gesture would go a long way toward
contributing to his legacy.
President might also consider the Institute for the Black World
request that he appoint a John Hope Franklin Commission on
Reparations. He could do this by executive order, and the commission
could potentially hold a couple of hearings in the month after the
November election. This would be a small gesture, but it would go a
long way toward continuing an important conversation about the
origins of our nation’s wealth gap.
Obama could also use the Executive Order to direct unspent Department
of Education funds to Historically Black Colleges and Universities
(HBCUs). What if he directed at least $1 million to each HBCU,
pushing Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, Acting Executive Director of the White
House Initiative on HBCUs to go to each federal department to release
unspent funds for contracting and scholarship opportunities? These
dollars would make a great difference, especially at our nation’s
smallest, private HBCUs.
President made important points in his recent visit to North Carolina
A&T State University at a gathering hosted by ESPN’s The
Undefeated, and led by anchor Stan Verrett. He could combine talk
with action by aggressively addressing HBCU issues as his term winds
down, making amends for the ways his administration treated HBCUs
Obama has lots of unfinished domestic and foreign policy matters, and
there will be numerous demands, in these last 100 days, for him to
address all manner of matters. As a lame duck, he has limited tools
– the Executive Order and the bully pulpit. Congress may
return after the November election chastened, especially if
Republicans lose the Presidential race, and inclined to cooperate on
some legislative matters. It is more likely, however, that they will
continue their obstruction to anything President Obama proposes.
President Obama has the power to do more both symbolically and
substantively in these last days of his Presidency. I’d urge
him to consider some of the things he can do to address the African
American community that has steadfastly supported him, even when he
has not been so supportive of us.