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Posted at 8:30 PM ET, 02/23/2011

Live from the Post's Town Hall meeting

By Sam Sanders

Wrap-up - 8:40pm

Here's a parting shot, of an audience member asking some follow-up questions of the Post's Michael Fletcher:

Michelle Singletary wrapped up the event half an hour after it was supposed to end. The audience wanted to keep the conversation going, and the energy in the room was palpable. But Singletary skillfully managed the crowd and the panelists the entire evening, and dismissed the event with these words:

"Stand up if you have faith hope and optimism that this too shall pass."

The whole room stood. The Post poll around which this discussion centered, which found high levels of African American optimism about the economy, must have been right.

Update - 8:29pm

Bernstein: "I don't see what we don't do something like this every week?" Bernstein said these dialogues must continue, and added, "Bring all your friends next time."

Rep. Cleaver argued for the simplification of financial documents like credit card bills. He also mentioned the need for financial literacy, which he says he working for in Congress.

Johnson argued against the idea that education is the great equalizer: "Opportunity is the great equalizer," he said. He also called the audience to action, asking audiences to agree to organize once a month, and asking college officials in the room to offer up meeting space.

Malveaux: "There is nothing that African Americans can not do as well as or better than white folks... We have to stop allowing this notion of people telling us that there's some instrument we can not master."

Nelson quoted Obama: "We are the ones we've been waiting for." While she said the issues discussed tonight are systemic and the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow, she said "We have to stop asking everybody else to do for us."

Sharpton: "A lot of people want to just posture and position.. We need to score what we can, in this administration."

Update - 8:15pm

From the audience:

"Nobody's really talked about literacy... What has to happen with Head Start? What has to happen with K-12? Adult literacy?"

Malveaux: "Talk about the role that community plays... Even reading in vitro makes a difference." She said that people must reach out to their communities. Singletary said she's reached out through her church, at the urging of her pastor to help her community.

Question: What are you going to do to change the discourse of building wealth?

Johnson said a space needs to be created to talk about practices. Sharpton said you have to define the difference between wealth and "bling-bling." Sharpton said, "A lot of our young people think that flash is wealth. And it's not."

Time's run over. Singletary is conducting a lightning round of questions, as the lines at the microphones are still bustling. One questioner asked for direct contact information, "so we can start making the connections today." But he wouldn't stop when the question was asked. Finally, Singletary admonished an usher: "Take his mic! Take his mic!"

Update - 8:07pm

#behindtheheadlines Where is the sweet spot where community norms and public policy and practice meet to effect positive change?less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

More questions are coming in. From Twitter: Where is the sweet spot where community norms and public policy and practice meet to effect positive change?

From the overflow room: How do you recover from financial loss?

Malveaux said, "They are profiting from your pain," making the point that there are some people profiting during this recession. She said that policies have helped banks and business throughout the country, but not average citizens. "When do we make the American people whole?"

Malveaux also made the case for entrepreneurship, stressing that anyone can be an entrepreneur: "Some fool invented the Pet Rock!"

She said entrepreneurship must be encouraged from African American youth.

Another member of the audience asked about predatory lending, particularly what he called Wells Fargo "ghetto loans." Rep. Cleaver defended his action against these practices in Congress and offered a retort to Nelson's earlier insistence that government is the problem: "This points to the need for the government."

Update - 7:57pm

Malveaux spoke more on education. She defended Head Start and argued against merit-based financial aid, saying you can't enforce merit-based financial aid without disenfranchising low-income blacks. She also found a problem with the Obama administration's "race-neutral" approach: "We can not do race-neutrality in a racist country."

Sophia Nelson made the argument that government may sometimes be "the problem." The administration's Bernstein, as well as the audience, was not particularly pleased. He made the point that the administration is making needed cuts:

"In our budget... we cut defense spending by 78 billion dollars over ten years... I am saying that that kind of a cut is something that would be forbidden.. I think that's a real advance."

Update - 7:48pm

Rep. Cleaver fought back against Bernstein's defense of the administration's policies, saying that none of that would have been possible without "forty-two Black votes," referring to the support of the Congressional Black Caucus. Bernstein agreed and said he'd need more support soon. Cleaver's response: "That's what I wanted you to say."

First question from the audience:
What can we do to get people engaged?

Jeff Johnson responded. "The entire base of our civil rights apparatus now doesn't move unless you pay them." He said people just have to care. "You don't have to see people rallying in February (referring to pro-union protesters in Wisconsin), if they rallied to the polls in November."

Sharpton on mobilizing for change:

"Make alliances based on need. The key to organizing is need... Now's the time to start convening all of these people to form voting blocs... Don't wait for Superman to come. Lois Lane ain't in our community. You've got to do it yourself."

Update - 7:42pm

Jeff Johnson: "Not all Black people want the same thing."

Johnson said African Americans have to be specific in defining what they want politically, and not just responding to what parties offer. "Know what you want politically... If all you're doing is a response... that's the wrong agenda!"

Bernstein then chimed in to defend the administration's response to the recession. He defended President Obama's interventions in the American auto industry, as well as investments in high-speed rail.

Update - 7:35pm

Question: "What can we do to engage the Republican party so they can become a viable voting option?"

Sophia Nelson of JET magazine responded. She said the Tea Party has been labeled, wrongly, as a white, overly conservative movement. She also thinks Blacks must engage the Republican Party by holding them accountable. But she acknowledged that the history between the GOP and Blacks has not been a positive one.

Update - 7:32pm

Sharpton: "We need to build a resistance movement... We can not stay locked in the paralysis of analysis."

Sharpton says we're seeing a states' rights movement coming from the likes of the Tea Party, on issues like unions' right to organize and immigration. Sharpton says that movement must be fought. And for him, that it will take a ground-up movement, because that's what it took before. "You got here because uneducated people got in these streets and opened doors. And we need to get back out there."

Update - 7:28pm

Malveaux issued a challenge to the audience: "How active are we politically? What are we doing?"

Here's live video of tonight's event:

Update - 7:25pm

Singletary asked Jeff Johnson about realities for young people, many students crushed with debt, moving back into their parents' house after college. Johnson said they can't just survive this downturn, "they have to grow in the midst of it."

"Nobody wants to be the one that makes the tough decisions.. There are some areas in the budget we need to have a tough conversation about... There are some places where cuts are necessary... We as a community need to be making some strategic surgical cuts."

For Johnson, blacks have to stop being afraid to make touch choices. Johnson said blacks will often laugh at Latinos and other groups who will allow extended family to live together in a single home, "ten folks to one house." Johnson said that's wrong, because "they're not in foreclosure."

Update - 7:15pm

Here's a view of the audience. Attendees were asked various questions to see how the economy has negatively affected them. By the end of Singletary's series of questions, almost all of the room was standing:

Question: What can we do to pull ourselves out of this? What's the future for the middle class, and for the "young folks"?

Bernstein: "Housing is one area that we can really make a difference."

Rep. Cleaver agreed. He said that America is facing the prospect of millions of foreclosures this year. And he believes we should save Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Update - 7:05pm
The 1st question

"Are we asking the right questions about race and the recession?

Panelist Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden got the first response. He said we are asking the right questions; we're just not getting the right answers.

Bernstein also the Executive Director of President Barack Obama's Middle Class Task Force.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus says some aren't listening to the right answers. "The issues of race are not received by the general population at the same level of 'we can solve it' as days gone by. A lot of time there's resentment... to even do a poll."

Michael Fletcher said that race still matters when it comes the the recession, even controlling for education levels. "Race plays a big part in our everyday economic society."

Jeff Johnson of thinks the questions are misguided. He took umbrage with Jon Cohen's earlier discussion of economic stress. Cohen said economic stress levels were lower for Blacks, as indicated by the poll. Johnson said levels were lower because, "They were just already stressed!"

"How do we talk about the solutions, and not talk about the solution talks about the solutions the way the administration does," said Johnson. "We should not say that what helps this group automatically trickles down."

Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College is worried about cuts to Pell Grants that fund college education for low income students. She also advocated for historically black institutions. She said, "The blacker the college, the sweeter the knowledge."

And she thinks that economic confidence among young people is paramount. She wanted to see oversampling in the poll for young people and their economic realities.

The last panelist to answer the question was Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network. He said the right question was asked, but that you have to understand the context of the answer. "Blacks were always more hopeful; we always had to be... We've always had to manage stress."

"We've always had to believe in something we couldn't see," said Sharpton.

Update - 6:43pm
Breaking down the poll results

Jon Cohen's taken the podium, after being introduced by Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli. He's breaking down the results of the Post-Kaiser-Harvard polls.

"We interviewed about 2,000 Americans," said Cohen. "There's no question that the country is hard hit by this recession."

"Optimism (about the national economy) among African Americans shines through in this poll," said Cohen, even though African Americans are less satisfied with their personal financial situation. Cohen also said the poll indicated lower levels of economic stress among African Americans. This elicited laughter from the audience, who seemed to disagree, forcing Cohen to reply, "Apparently we didn't call you."

Here are the full results.

Update - 6:30pm
An audience perspective

Vercilla Brown from Bowie, MD is in the audience, waiting for tonight's event to begin. She said she's excited to hear the panelists' remedies for the ailing economy: "I hope they have solutions that maybe we're missing."

Her biggest concern in this economy: stability. Brown says she, and a lot of others affected in this downturn just aren't sure what to do next:

"We did everything we were told to do," said Brown. "And all of that seems to have fallen apart. Especially for people of certain ages, because you don't know which direction to go... What do you do?"

Update - 6:10
What does the data say?

Before the panel conversation starts tonight, the Washington Post's director of polling, Jon Cohen, will talk about the results of a poll the Post recently conducted on differing views of the American economy by race.

The results reveal optimism in the economy's recovery, even among groups most hurt by the economic downturn:

Despite severe losses during the recession, the majority of African Americans see the economy improving and are confident that their financial prospects will improve soon.
African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be left broke, jobless and concerned that they lack the skills needed to shape their economic futures. But they also remained the most hopeful that the economy would soon right itself and allow them to prosper.

But not all groups shared in that optimism:

That optimism, shared to a lesser degree by Hispanics, stands in stark contrast to the deeper pessimism expressed by a majority of whites. In general, whites are more satisfied with their personal financial situations but also more sour about the nation's economic prospects.

Here's the full report

How do you feel about the economy? Let us know in the comments.

Update - 5:58pm

The Rennie Forum at Prince George's Community College is starting to fill up. But it's not too late to submit your questions for our panelists. Reach out to us on Twitter with the hashtag #behindtheheadlines.

And check out full Washington Post coverage on Race and the Recession with poll data, video and fresh reporting.

Read our live blog from The Washington Post's panel discussion, "Behind the Headlines: A Discussion on Race and the Recession in Metro Washington" today from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The panel will cover the recession's impact on local black families and will look at how economic policies in Washington have affected African Americans.

Moderated by Post financial columnist Michelle Singletary, panelists include: The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network; Julianne Malveaux, economist and educator; Jared Bernstein, chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden; Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Jeff Johnson, a political commentator on the nationally syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show; Sophia Nelson, a political commentator for Jet magazine and MSNBC; and Michael A. Fletcher, a Washington Post national economics reporter.

Questions can be submitted here.

Live video will begin here at 6.30 p.m.

By Sam Sanders  | February 23, 2011; 8:30 PM ET
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Of course it is only blacks being hurt by the recession.

What a bunch of BS!

How about a Congressional White Caucus? Wouldn't that go over like a lead balloo

Posted by: Janice11 | February 23, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

1. Who made Al Sharpton a "Reverend", which school did he did his theology degree?

2. Where are all the medallions he used to wear during the Tawana Brawley era?

Posted by: kenk33 | February 23, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Get this Reverand liar and criminal libelist....white middle class ain't funding your scams, your baby daddys, your lifetime welfare crapola, your "gimme my promotion cause I'm black" anymore. It's over "Rev." You play by the same rules now as everybody earn your way.

Posted by: wjc1va | February 23, 2011 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Julianne Malveaux is a race baiter and bigot. She is a race hustler who feeds off of white guilt.

Just imagine what BS she and others of her ilk are feeding blacks at her little school.

Posted by: numbersch13 | February 23, 2011 10:59 PM | Report abuse what the above are saying is that they despise Blacks in particular having a Black President named Obama in the White House. Re welfare there are actually more Whites and now Hispanics on Welfare and other social support systems than Blacks. But in all fairness (the writer is White, 64 yoa, a veteran of VN) the Hispanics/Mexicans and others from the South and Central Americas, are willing to take on any job to provide an income for not only themselves but in many cases to send home to their families. How many hotels, condos, apt, ect are cleaned by one of the above cultural makeup; how many of the non union construction workers are now working on both large and small construction jobs in the ares generally as carpenters or laborers but still employed at lower wages and with less benefits; and of course how many of these people are in the crops picking and harvesting the foods we eat and living in many cases in slum like conditions but still working. You seldom see Whites and Black out pursuing these jobs aside from Black women working along side or supervising them in the hotel industries.
Whites are organized now with their Tea Party mentality but also with the minority White group who see much of what they had as middle class Americans slipping away from them or rather being pulled from them by the wealthiest of this country who have the leverage to cut back jobs, wages and benefits and if you don't take them then out the door you go to the unemployed list. Sharpton is an organizer and whether he went to a seminary for his degree is a mute point; most self ordained Blacks and Whites and probably Hispanics have never completed a theology course but are active in their religious communities where the term Rev. is loosely used. Sharpton is doing what is needed and that is attempting to wake Black Americans up to the reality of the time and that most Whites would like nothing better than to ship them and the Hispanics back to where he or she evolved from. Whites are quickly becoming the minority and esp the Whites of the Grand ole South are fighting to eradicate Blacks, Latinos and middle class Whites who are not of their like mindsets - that is wanting to see what many of us - esp Whites - over the past years have fought, worked for, and voted to have established for all of us but esp the poor and the elderly of this country. White folks esp better open their eyes to the reality that the Republicans/Tea Partiers/Fundamentalists, etc are out to do away with Middle Class America - irregardless of our race and culture. They are out to destroy what so many of us fought for in war, in the courts, and in the neighborhoods and that was progress. These of the above parties want to do away with the govt that serves all but esp those w/o an income, a health insurance plan, a home and esp one heated, safety and protection, and esp a promise for tomorrow. You Whites of liberal/moderate standing need to open you eyes and ears and face the enemy!

Posted by: davidmswyahoocom | February 24, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

"Of course it is only blacks being hurt by the recession.

What a bunch of BS!"

Who said that? Blacks are being hurt more, by percentage of unemployment, by the recession. That's a fact, and wasn't a hard one to figure out.

"How about a Congressional White Caucus? Wouldn't that go over like a lead balloo"

Congressional White Caucus? Oh, you must mean "Congress". What a nimrod.

Posted by: fbutler1 | February 24, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I think people need to examine why they are so offended by anything that claims to be for Blacks. There are outlets just for Hispanics, just for women, for Democrats, for Republicans, for Asians, for Christians, for Muslims, for atheists, for Jews, and for every profession out there. Everybody has their own little clique and their own little family reunion and their own little clubs. Heck, the math and science geeks in schools have their own little thing going on. I don't see anything special or evil about Black people deciding to identify with one another.

Posted by: forgetthis | February 24, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

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