The power of ideas and determination

Posted: Dec 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Jonathon Swift wrote that "vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." President Bush has a vision of an America where every citizen owns a home and controls his or her own retirement; he sees an America where every American, regardless of economic circumstance or skin color has the opportunity to dream big and, through hard work and perseverance, to achieve success and own a stake in the American dream. President Bush's domestic agenda is as visionary - and could be as transforming - as President Lincoln's Homestead Act and Franklin D. Roosevelt's FHA and VA home-mortgage guarantees.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Marc Morial, the new president of the Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, who has mighty big shoes to fill as he follows the great work of former president Hugh Price. After our conversation, I am convinced that not only is Morial up to the job, his soon-to-be-launched National Entrepreneurial Centers demonstrate he is on the right track and the right issues.

The Entrepreneurial Centers are part of a new initiative to expand business ownership and entrepreneurship among minorities. As part of this initiative the administration will undertake a unique association with the National Urban League to create an entrepreneurship network. Supported by the Business Roundtable and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the NUL network will include one-stop centers for business training, counseling, financing and contracting.

These six centers, strategically located around the country, will be officially launched early next year. They are premised on the notion that access to capital and ownership are the twin linchpins of opportunity and prosperity in the African-American community - what George W. Bush suggests are a part of an ownership society not just for the growing black middle class but for those people of color left behind in the inner cities and the stagnant rural areas of America.

As Bush eloquently put it, "Our small business sector is vibrant and strong because of the dreamers who live here in America. And the job of government is to inspire and help." And that is what these entrepreneurial centers will do - inspire and help minority entrepreneurs, thus expanding job opportunities, as well.

Speaking at the National Convention of the Urban League earlier this year, Bush acknowledged Morial by saying, "Marc, I appreciate your leadership. I've had the opportunity to work with Marc. He's a good man. He cares deeply about the country, the people in our country." I strongly concur and plan to be of assistance to the Urban League, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations who see access to capital and ownership as another step in the struggle for civil, human and equal rights in America.

The president also praised Marc for his leadership on this and the board's leadership in understanding the need to work with the federal government to set up one-stop centers where minority enterprise can receive business training. It's one thing to say, "Let's go be an entrepreneur," but people need help - they need the tools to bring their ideas to fruition. You may have a great idea, but you need to know how to keep the books and manage a business.

Entrepreneurial Centers are practical application of federal assets to help people understand how to own and run their own business. You can develop contacts there. You get advice on financing. The centers will provide practical ways to help people realize their dreams; that is what we're talking about.

Admittedly, America has a long way to go to provide a full measure of justice and equality for all - in reality and not just as a dream. Toward this end, the president has also been a strong advocate for homeownership.

It is good to see the CEOs of corporate America backing this agenda, including the Kauffman Foundation. In this collaboration, this partnership, between the federal government and the Urban League, citizens from around the country are coming together to set up these centers to help people help themselves.

In the 2000 presidential election, Bush spoke of the soft bigotry of low expectations and vowed to change the attitude in Washington. This task has proven more difficult than he may have first imagined, but the president is reaching out to minority leaders both in word and deed on issues of urban renewal, homeownership and minority entrepreneurialism.

Now it's time to extend this cooperation and dialogue to ownership of personal retirement accounts. And there is no better place than our civil rights organizations to help undertake a national conversation on personal retirement accounts and extending ownership to every worker and family in America. That's what I intend to do, and with the help of leaders like Marc Morial and other leaders in the minority community, such as Henry Cisneros, I know we can succeed and create the spirit of bipartisanship that everyone talks about but that seems so difficult to achieve.