President Barack Obama’s visit to Louisiana this week to capitalize on his State of the Union speech was a reminder that the union is built from thousands of neighborhoods, some of them struggling to reach the full promise of the American dream.
Obama was here to conduct a town hall forum at McKinley High, a historically black public school in Baton Rouge that now serves a more diverse student body, although most of the young people who study there are black. McKinley rests in the heart of a poor, mostly black neighborhood near LSU.
The arrival of a presidential motorcade is a big event in any area, and it was especially so as Obama’s limousine made its way to McKinley. The motorcade passed some modest houses that could use fresh paint, along with quite a few vacant lots.
That landscape is unlikely to make the network news, but it suggests the stubborn nature of poverty — especially in Louisiana but, to some degree, across the United States.
It’s a problem that should concern every president, which is why the president’s remarks to his Baton Rouge audience about the importance of education resonated with such urgency. He mentioned the working-class childhood of his wife, Michelle, whose parents didn’t go to college, although she made it to the Ivy League because “people invested in us.”
McKinley has its own story to tell about the power of education to change lives. Founded in a segregated South, the school has produced doctors, lawyers, college professors and political leaders among many other successful alumni. The school was named after President William McKinley — a chief executive who, to McKinley’s original students, must have seemed as remote as Caesar. That’s why the visit to McKinley High by a black president had such deep emotional resonance.
Obama used his Baton Rouge visit to announce that he’ll ask Congress for more generous terms for states like Louisiana that are latecomers in accepting federal dollars for expansion of Medicaid, the program that helps fund medical care for the working poor.
We must wonder if the Republican-controlled Congress will embrace the president’s latest ideas about Medicaid expansion, an issue with special relevance to Louisiana, which has so many low-income residents. Although we support Medicaid expansion and think the plan Obama floated Thursday has merit, we look forward to the day when more of our people are thriving and the question of Medicaid’s future isn’t so worrisome.
That’s why we’re glad that Obama chose a public school as his venue during his trip to Louisiana, and we hope his visit inspires students to stay in school and study hard. If more of our residents are going to climb from poverty to prosperity, education will be their way up the ladder.