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Black Men in the Age of President Obama

Aired October 31, 2009 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: November 4, 2008.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And CNN can now project that Barack Obama, 47 years old, will become the president-elect of the United States.

LEMON: His hometown of Chicago and cities the world over erupt. Black men and young boys...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other.

LEMON: ...are infused with a new sense of pride, a new level of aspiration. Months later, a cold January day in Washington, D.C....

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear --

LEMON: ...history in the making. The 44th president of the United States only 2 years old in 1963 when blacks and whites marched on Washington to rally for justice on these same grounds.

OBAMA: This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men, women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall.

LEMON: A speech setting the tone for what some see as a post- racial America, the beginning of a new era no longer driven by partisan emotions and divisiveness.

OBAMA: We thought it was important for us to be able to step back for a moment, remind ourselves that we have things in common.

LEMON: Americans of all hues and background, with a man of color in charge, working through a tanking economy, record unemployment, two wars. But then the debate over health care reform makes clear there is still a deep partisan divide.

OBAMA: The reforms -- the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegal.


OBAMA: It's not true.

LEMON: Marked by dramatic outpourings of anti-government fervour. You believe that there is a racial undercurrent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe there's a undercurrent but it's not the major factor.

LEMON: So with scholarly help from the likes of Dr. Cornell West, educators like Steve Perry, young millionaires like Farrah Gray, students, entertainers, and religious leaders, CNN examines black men in the age of President Obama.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Don Lemon.

This is a big issue we know. So we start tonight with a topic that kept coming up as we researched and discussed black men in the age of President Obama, and that his family.

Angela Burt-Murray joins me tonight. She is the editor-in-chief of "Essence" magazine.

And Angela, "Essence" magazine finds that 70 percent of black children are being raised by single mother. It's a big issue.

ANGELA BURT-MURRAY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "ESSENCE" MAGAZINE: It is definitely a big issue. And, you know, if you think about what's going on right now, the idea that a year ago, we were all so hopeful within the African-American community that the election of a black president was going to usher in a new era for this community, but the stark reality is there are challenges that are Herculean, that people are having to deal with. But black men are telling us in the poll that 87 percent of them feel more hopeful than ever and that their lives will change under this new president.

LEMON: And, Angela, the men in our panel say it's really just the image of the president with an intact family will make all of the difference.

BURT-MURRAY: Right. Right.

LEMON: So right now black men on the black family.


LEMON (on camera): When you see someone like President Obama with his two children, his wife, an intact family unit, is it just about what you see, or does the message go deeper than what you see on the television?

BISHOP EDDIE L. LONG, SR. PASTOR, NEW BIRTH MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: It is a profoundly deep message, especially to the African- American community at this time that's really kind of suffering in reference to family, and really reaching and grabbing to get family values again, to really give men especially a role model, someone to look at. I'm extremely excited, extremely proud to see how President Obama's family operates, et cetera, and it sets the pattern.

LEMON: What effect has it had on you to see him with his family, if any at all?

TYREE "DJ DRAMA" SIMMONS, APHILLIATES: Oh, it's a great effect. I mean, here is the president of the country with, you know, two little girls that he's raising. So I'm definitely inspired by it. I mean, I take pride of being a good dad already, you know, but having Barack as that symbol, I mean, it just, you know, it gives you somebody to watch and somebody to live by, you know, see his actions as well. So I'm sure a bunch of other young men can say the same thing.

LEMON: Tyrone, as you are making your way through college, the future, are you a Morehouse fan yet, or is that when you graduated?


LEMON: You're a man of Morehouse.


LEMON: So you'll become a Morehouse fan after you graduate.

Do you think -- do you talk about that with your peers, about over the last couple of years seeing someone like President Obama, then candidate Obama on the campaign trail with his family, two daughters, taking time out now, this president going to the ice cream stand and those sorts of things. Do you talk about that? Does that weigh on your consciousness?

MCGOWAN: It does. It does, Don. And we were talking about this earlier, how the status of the black family has changed. We know that black families, they tend to be more extended families, not nuclear families. Black families tend to be more blended. And so you have, instead of, you know, mom and dad, you may have auntie, uncle, grandmother playing a more integral role in the child's life. And so I think just seeing President Obama -- symbolically, seeing his wife, seeing him hug Michelle on the national stage, seeing him embrace his daughters on the national stage, just that image, does so much.

LEMON: Farrah, let's talk to you, single male. You're single, right?


LEMON: When you look at -- over the year, has the president inspired you at the all to want to be married, to want to have a family unit, children, over the last year?

GRAY: Absolutely. There's nothing like black love. And I think that we've gotten --


GRAY: Yes. I think that we've gotten apart. And I think it came honestly from slavery, being separated. You know, I just -- I was in Africa not too long ago and I visited one of the slave castles. And they had the door that was called the Door of No Return, where we were separated as a family. And I think that's where we've become weak.

STEVE PERRY, FOUND/CEO, CAPITAL PREP ACADEMY: I think there's a commonly held misconception that slavery somehow killed the black family. But all the way up through the late '50s, over 80 percent of all black children were born to two-parent households. So somewhere around in late '60s is when the family actually began to break down. We often hold slavery up and its lingering effects on us as a reason why we can no longer. And I'm saying that we have the power within our community and our individual selves to make certain decisions.

LEMON: Bishop, how do you put a period on it and take us to the next level when it comes to family, especially with the president now has started seemingly something positive, what's the next level here?

LONG: Statistic after statistic that show that when a son or daughter is in a home with a mother and father, or as Farrah said, there's someone mentoring, etcetera, connection, a strong connection, it builds strong character, it builds someone who becomes very hungry, et cetera, for education, morality, those kind of things. And it's been proven that when those things operate, when that's in order, then we're much better off, our children are much better off. And then (INAUDIBLE), even if helps in the economy because wealth is generated in the family and passed on generationally.

PERRY: But what we have to focus most on is our individual responsibility, the capacity each one of us have to take responsibility for our two daughters. This brother could have done what many brothers did, walk away from his children. He did not. And so he finds solace and some level of inspiration there. I may not. I may find it in Mr. Saunders who was my guidance counselor, who has been a long-time mentor of mine, a man who I feel like is much like my father. I don't -- no disrespect to Barack, but Mr. Saunders is the guy who I want to be when I grow up.

So each one of us is going to find something. And what that does, that gives enough of us the opportunity as this brother was saying to extend ourselves and decide if we're going to be that person for somebody else. And likewise find that person in other people.


LEMON: And up next -- we talk about education. The first daughters attending an elite private school prompts a very public debate.


PERRY: If he sends his child to a D.C. public school, he's making a very clear statement that I value this education.


PERRY: This is where I live; this is where I'm going to send my kids, this school. Or he says, you know what? I won't send my kids to these schools, so therefore I'm not going to make anybody else send their kids to those schools. LEMON: Have you spoken to him about that?

PERRY: No. He didn't call me this week.




CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!


LEMON: Well, one year later, students at Chicago's Urban Prep Academy, an all-boys school on the south side, they told me how President Obama has impacted their view of themselves and the world.



UNIDENTIFIED MALES: We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people. We have a future for which we are accountable. We have a responsibility to our families, community and world. We are our brothers' keepers. We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We believe in our prep. We believe.



LEMON (on camera): Do you ever hear that? Because you say it every single day, right, except for the weekends? Do you ever find yourself saying it when you're not here?


LEMON: It's motivation. Why do you say that?

TYLER BECK, URBAN PREP SENIOR: Because it's like you listen to what the creed embodies and you just like feel and you listen to what the words are saying. It's like, wow, this is actually powerful. There's power in those words.

LEMON: Black men in the age of Obama. Can you say that things have changed? Are they different? Are they more positive?

MARLON MARSHALL, URBAN PREP SENIOR: I'm surprise. To be honest I just still can't believe we've got a black president. I really cannot believe that. I wake up and say, we got a black president. My mama will send me a text and she will be like, hey, Mr. President, or something like that, because my mom really thinks that I could be a president of the United States, or she really see me being a politician. MARQUIS CRAWFORD, URBAN PREP STUDENT: Barack Obama, his main focus to me is he's still focusing on our education, like I never, I never watched on TV September 8th, the first day of school, like a president speak about education, like he cares about our futures. And education is the way to success.

LEMON: Over the last year, you see an intact African-American family before you saw him on the campaign trail. Now you see them in the White House, you know, on Air Force One getting off there. What is that like for you guys?

BECK: He's the president of the United States. He's doing everything, and he's still, like, you know, family first.

LEMON: Last year I asked you to write things on the board. Do you remember what you said?

What did you write?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the beginning.

LEMON: It was the beginning?


LEMON: Do you still feel that way?


BECK: I wrote free at last. I mean, it's like, it's not more so like physical free, but more of a mental mind state, like the chains are off our brains sort of in a way.


LEMON: Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence," magazine. Urban Prep Academy is designed to prepare their graduate to succeed in college, but not all black children or students especially young black men are so fortunate.

BURT-MURRAY: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we've heard a lot about the achievement gap. And even when you isolate for income, African- American children, in particularly black boys, are still challenged in the classroom, scoring 28 points below their white students in reading and math scores. So there's still a serious problem. And, you know, while we all would love to have a lot of urban prep schools around the country, there's also going to need to be an effort by parents and community leaders to get involved in the education of children.

LEMON: Absolutely. So, Angela, it was a vigorous discussion on education. President Obama, he got some praise with some criticism for not sending his daughters to public school.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LEMON (on camera): Specifically for education, what do you think that the glass ceiling has been broken in education for young men to say, you know, I want to go to school now instead of I want to play basketball, I want to be a rapper, I want to be whatever, I want to go to college.

GRAY: Absolutely, because you don't need a degree to be a rapper. You know, if you decide you want to be a hot shot attorney, attorney general, if you fail, you at least can be a lawyer. If you want to be the top surgeon in the world, if you fail, at least you're a doctor. If you want to be Little Wayne, and you fail, you're just a broke brother at home with rhymes.

So it's important, I think education is important, formal and informal. So now, he's not only made it cool, but he's given us another dimension to who we are as a people, who have been robbed of our religion, our language, our culture and our God. A lot of us have been told -- society has told us what we can't do. Now it's like, wait a minute, I can go to school, and I can be Dr. Barack Obama, get my JD attorney, Michelle Obama, I can do this. And I think that's a blessing and address.

MCGOWAN: He made it cool to go on to law school. He made it cool to go on and achieve higher degrees. He made it cool to find a wife, who was educated as well. I think that now black males, like myself, young black males, it's more possible. We have an example now, a model, a model at the highest level of government on how to go.

LEMON: So you've noticed since the president's election that young people are trying to go to school more, and that's directly reflected in you helping kids go to school?

LONG: Well, we always have a commitment to helping kids go to school. I notice the demand has gotten greater. One of the things Steve alluded to --

LEMON: Wait, wait, hang on -- say that again, I don't think people heard that.

LONG: Over the last year, again...

LEMON: The demand has gotten greater.

No one applauded for that.


LEMON: I think that's amazing. If our churches and, you know, our social -- the people who help us socially are noticing the demand in young people trying to get a college degree or go to school, I think that's amazing.

PERRY: One of the areas where I would actually look to the president to make a stand, because of what policies -- but what I would like to see him do is to take his two lovely daughters and put them in a D.C. public school. (APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Why do you say that?

PERRY: Because on the day that he put his children in that school, that school would improved from that day forward. And then what I would like to see is the 45 percent of the congressional black caucus who send their children to private schools, though they represent largely black districts to send their children to public schools. And until such time as you consume that which you serve, you cannot be -- you cannot say that you are committed to that which you are serving.


PERRY: So if you say that you care about public education, then participate in it.

LEMON: It's easy to say. That's easy for you to say, but is it practical?


LEMON: Because in some ways maybe they're looking for the safety of the other children who are in school or not inconveniencing other children.


PERRY: No, no, no. The kids who go to that school aren't inconvenienced with the secret service there?

LEMON: The kids who go to that school are probably from a different demographic.

PERRY: Don't do that, brother. Don't do that. Don't do that. Don't let them off the hook. Don't do it.



LEMON: I'm just playing -- I'm playing devil's advocate.

PERRY: And I appreciate it. And I'm going to play devil's advocate back at you. So here's where we go. If he sends his child to a D.C. public school, he's making a very clear statement that I value this education.


PERRY: This is where I live; this is where I'm going to send my kids, this school. Or he says, you know what?, I won't send my kids to these schools, so therefore I'm not going to make anybody else send their kids to those schools.

LEMON: Have you spoken to him about that?

PERRY: No. He didn't call me this week.


LEMON: And if you had the opportunity, if he calls you this week or next week --

PERRY: What do you think I'm going to say?

LEMON: You're going to tell him the same thing?

PERRY: I'm going to tell him because enough has to be enough.


PERRY: Our children -- our children are as valuable as anybody else's.


PERRY: They were born not scarred by their hue, but blessed with their hue. This is just the color that they're born in, but they have beautiful minds. When you have children attending schools in which 91 percent of the children are performing below level, that is criminal. It's criminal. If you let one parent, one black parent, one white parent, whatever color parent keep her child out of school for one with year, she will go to prison for educational neglect.

So how is it possible for us to keep entire schools open that are not educating? If their school just outside of his purview, his district where he would have to put his children on a bus, that he can send his children to that he does not send his children to, he's making a very clear statement that these schools are not good enough for my children.


LEMON: And research shows a direct link to dropping out of school and incarceration.

Up next -- tough talk about black men and crime. But first, unemployment. Black men are at the top of the list, and our panel is looking to the White House for more than a quick federal fix.


LEMON: You see those unemployment numbers shows just how hard African-Americans are being hit by the recession. Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence" magazine.

The research shows that black men are hit the hardest. They are at the top of the list which is really the bottom.

BURT-MURRAY: Yes, definitely. It's so interesting. In our poll, 87 percent felt like they were more hopeful about their ability to attain the American dream with the election of Barack Obama, but 67 percent feel like they're still living on the margin. So they're still incredibly challenged. And when you look at those unemployment numbers, historically, the average for the African- American community has always been double the national average. But as the national average creeps up, our numbers get even more challenging to consider.

LEMON: All right, Angela, now the economy and the high expectations facing the president, President Barack Obama.


GRAY: If we're looking at the black community, black men, specifically, we've been in a recession, if the definition is it being in double digits for the past ten years. So if you look at New York City, roughly 45 percent unemployment for African-Americans. You look at Detroit, 65 percent plus unemployment. So we have been hurting financially for a very long time as it relates to jobs.

So we have been in a recession, and I think that dynamic is represented all over the world. Economically, we've always been in a deficit. And I think that when we look at and even have a discussion in the media hype, you know, it's been 90 days, what's Obama doing. You know, what I feel is that we're putting so much pressure on him. It's like making love, for example. You know, we're looking for the baby the next day. Well, where's the baby at? I don't see it. We need to give this man time. Like I said, he hasn't even had a chance to be president yet. So we as he has said and other economists have said and I have said, that it's going to get worse before it gets better.

LONG: I don't want us to get to the point that where we are still sitting at where we're looking at. What is President Obama's effect on the jobs for African-American males, et cetera? I think, as was said, we haven't been in this a year yet, and we're trying to see his effect. I know we're trying to measure that. Sometimes we put too much on it.

One of the things I think is the best for an African-American man at this moment with President Obama showing through hard work, creativity. Now he became president because he mastered the Internet, he mastered new techniques, he looked at things different and he moved and caught everybody off guard because he did not go the regular route. The reason I say that is, we would never, ever going to get the government to fix our poverty problem. It has to be a new mindset that comes to us.


PERRY: I think one of the greatest contributions that the president has made is his contribution to the economy. And I'll tell you why. Black folks have always had a higher unemployment than white people, and in most cases it's been twice as much all the way back to the '50s, again.

What I think he's done is he's built consumer confidence. We talk about that. That's really what credit is. Credit is, I believe you're going to pay me back if I give you this money. So he's rebuilding America's credit internationally. People have begun to believe in America again, that we will rise again.

LEMON: Do you think that the president over the last year has helped your cause as a young black man who's about to get out of college?

MCGOWAN: I do feel that he and his administration is making a conscience effort to I think create jobs. The stimulus package was one of his first initiatives when he assumed the office. And that has created jobs, that has sustained jobs, that has kind of stopped the recession from getting even worse. And so I do think he's making strides. But the one thing I do think he's doing is he's encouraging young people like myself to go into public service instead of looking for a job, instead of coming out of college going to get six figures, how about joining the Peace Corps, going to serve two years in a developing country? That's a way I think he's encouraging us to do not necessarily, you know, waking up the next day, and you have your BMW or six figures, but serve first.


LEMON: Now we go from the boardroom to the bedroom. We tackle sexuality. Everything from HIV AIDS to gay rights.

Plus, the president's fight against crime.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fredricka Whitfield. BLACK MEN IN THE AGE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA continues in a moment. But first, a look at the top stories.

The Afghan presidential runoff might turn into a one-man race. Challenger Abdullah Abdullah is expected to announce tomorrow if he will boycott the vote. Abdullah held talks with President Hamid Karzai's representatives today about preventing vote fraud. None of Abdullah's demands have been met so far.

A convicted rapist and suspect in six killings is now in custody in Ohio. Police in Cleveland arrested Anthony Sowell this morning while he was walking near a police station. A few days ago authorities were serving a search warrant at Sole's home when they found six bodies on the property.

And more cases of the H1N1 flu this weekend, but there's also more vaccine to deal with. 48 states now report widespread flu activity. That's up two from a week ago, but more than 26 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are available. That's 10 million more than just a week ago.

And that's a check of the headlines. I'm Frederica Whitfield. Now back to Don Lemon and BLACK MEN IN THE AGE OF PRESIDENT OBAMA.

LEMON: Thank you very much. American cities face seemingly insurmountable problems with youth violence. President Obama's hometown of Chicago is at the forefront. What's the solution?


PERRY: One of the most frightening things you'll ever see is to look into the eyes of a child who is tapped out. You look into that dark stare of a child who is an eighth grader and you know that they're done. They're done. There is nothing more frightening and lethal than a child who has given up.



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Inner city African-American communities, historically crippled by crime. Angela Burt-Murray of "Essence" magazine, a disproportionate number of black men are sitting in prison.


LEMON: And "Essence" magazine found that much of the reporting that's coming tonight is coming from your reporting in "Essence" magazine.

BURT-MURRAY: Yes. I mean, when we talk about the issue of the over-incarceration of black men in this country, obviously it all goes back to education. When people have options they do better and they build better lives, and they don't resort to the sort of violence that we're seeing, that's racking our communities right now.

And I think that when you think about what the opportunity looks like to see change in those numbers that you saw earlier in the piece, it really comes down to improving education, improving the quality of lives that people are experiencing right now.

LEMON: All right. Angela, let's talk crime, incarceration and the environment at home.


LEMON: There's been a specific focus on Chicago with youth violence there. One because the president is from there, number two, because it's so high, three, the education secretary is from there as well. I think it is one -- I think it's 14 percent. One in every 15 African- American children has a parent in prison.

STEVE PERRY, FOUND/CEO, CAPITAL PREP ACADEMY: It's education. The root of it is education. It doesn't take long to figure out that people without education begin to make really bad decisions. You can look at the areas that have the highest crime rate, they have the lowest school performance rate. There's a direct correlation. There is a causal relationship. You go to the prisons, you'll find over 80 percent of the inmates don't have a high school diploma and/or read below level significantly.

TYRONE MCGOWAN, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE SENIOR: I really feel that one of the contributing factors to this violence in the community is the economy. I think you already have the black family in the state that it's in, and the economy is just strangling our family.

LEMON: You made it out, Farrah. And do you think that by the president just being there, even though some people say he could do more, by the president just being there, has it had an effect on young black men when it comes to violence or men being incarcerated or violence at all?

TYRONE MCGOWAN, MOREHOUSE COLLEGE SENIOR: We haven't seen much of a change. The data is pretty much still the same. And, again, I think things are getting worse because as it says in the scripture, where there's no vision, the people perish. What I like to say, where there's no vision, they just go buck wild. So we a lot of times don't -- we only grow up to be what we can see.

BISHOP EDDIE L. LONG, SR. PASTOR, NEW BIRTH MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH: This is the worst time possible to be president, whether you're white, black, Chinese, whatever. He has to judge where I am right now, what I'm dealing with right now, what is the most important thing to deal with? Why do we have crime? What's going on? Why we have crime. It's proven by statistics. Where we talked about by fourth grade level because really by fourth grade they're determining how many prisons to build based off the reading level of a fourth grader. So now to not give good education is profitable.

LEMON: It seems that everyone agrees that the crime and the violence and the prison problem, all of that is a direct correlation to education.

PERRY: If you look at what happens, let's just take it from a very micro level. Let's go right to the classroom. When the child doesn't know what's going on, children don't have to filter to find something else to do while the rest of the class is learning. They have to find something else to do. What do they find to do? Be disruptive. Get sent out of class. It begins to beat the will out of a child. There's nothing more frightening and lethal than a child who has given up.

LEMON: And that is education. But also there's personal and parental responsibility as well. It comes from the home. It starts in the home.

LONG: But there's still a counter against that. When I was in school, if I got in trouble, they called my parents. When you're in school now, the overreaction to this and that and the strictness and what they call the decrease, I'm calling the police. I've got two lawyers on retainer just to help black boys who made mistakes, et cetera, because they're coming out of high school with a criminal record for silly moments.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LEMON: Coming up -- black and gay. Think about that for a second. President Obama promises unprecedented support of the gay community. Could that support remove a stigma that is killing black women in particular?

But first, a crisis of faith.


LEMON: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church on election night 2008. Many believed it was a realization of Dr. King's dream.

Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence" magazine, here is the question. Since Dr. King's death, his assassination, has there been a crisis of faith in the black community? Some people believe that.

BURT-MURRAY: Well, I think certainly with the election of President Barack Obama people feel like faith has certainly played a role in that. So any numbers that you might have seen decline after the assassination of Dr. King. I think you're probably seeing a resurgence as people are feeling more hopeful and more positive about what is possible in this new time.

LEMON: All right, now we talk a return to faith and the president's role.


LONG: I had the opportunity to sit at Ebenezer Baptist Church on the night that President Obama won the presidency. When CNN announced that this is our new president, such an overwhelming feeling hit me because I'm sitting as a dream of a reality of a man of God, a man of faith, Dr. King, who spoke about days like this. This was kind of just a fire that got back into the faith, got back into the church, that you can dream again.

GRAY: It's renewed my faith. You know, as the scripture says, faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things unseen. I don't think a lot of people can honestly say that we really would see a black president. A lot of people didn't think it was possible.

LEMON: Did you think it was possible?

GRAY: I wasn't sure. I'm not going to lie to you. I wasn't sure. But I know that being a black man in America, now we proved that any and everything is possible. So for me, I was very happy but I knew that at the root of it, it had to be faith.

LEMON: What about you?

TYREE "DJ DRAMA" SIMMONS, APHILLIATES: It has helped me as well. I haven't been one, you know, in the past who has gone to church a lot, but, I mean, he's given me reason to start.

LEMON: When you look at that family in the White House, that president in the White House, has it changed what you do at all?

LONG: What I tell my people and everywhere I go, this is a time for you to start dreaming again, to say whatever you didn't think would happen in your lifetime, it's possible now.

MCGOWAN: President Obama has inspired and encouraged people of all faiths and all colors and creeds, but one of the things that I'm very critical of is I still want, especially the African-American ministers to keep his prophetic edge. I don't want him to lower his voice just because Barack Obama is in the White House and he happens to be black. I still want the ministers, the preachers, to still be the prophet that he is called to be, to still stand on the wall and call it like it is, to speak with power of the truth. That's what I think bishop and so many other great ministers across the country still have to do, speak truth to power.


LEMON: Still ahead -- the big gay secret. Why so many gay black men lead double lives, killing themselves and black women.


GRAY: I think homosexuality in the black community has been something that like I said we really don't talk about, that on the down-low thing didn't really come about. I didn't know that there were that many brothers on the down-low until the book came out myself. And I started educating myself on the topic, because many of us live in the 51st state of the United States, and that's the state of denial.




BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination to gays and lesbians, whether in the office or on the battlefield.


You will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman.


LEMON: Except for marriage. President Obama promises equal rights to gay people, but this is one issue where the president may not enjoy unified support from African-Americans.

Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence" magazine. This whole idea, though, of the down-low. There was a book written about it. The stigma that's killing black men and women in record numbers, time for some soul searching here?

BURT-MURRAY: Absolutely. It's time for the African-American community to get real. And that homophobia does exist in our community. We've embraced it and the silence is killing us. African- American women, the leading cause of death is HIV. So women, 18 to 34 are being killed because we refuse to talk about this issue and accept gay and lesbian people in our community.

LEMON: Do you think it's a stigma men say, black men say, I can't come out because my black sisters won't accept me? I won't be --

BURT-MURRAY: Right. My church won't accept me.

LEMON: My church won't accept me.

BURT-MURRAY: Yes, my community won't accept me. And those are very real fears. But the community has to understand that we have to move beyond this because it is killing us.

LEMON: OK. We talk now about out in the open, about the down low, the black community's dirty little secret.


LEMON: I was researching something for a story I was doing as part of our Gay in America series, and there was one young man at work who said -- I said, well, do you know anyone who is on the down low who I can interview about what have you? And he said, no one, I couldn't tell you. He said, I am. And I said, why can't you -- why won't you just come out? He said, because my sisters won't love me. They won't accept me. My family won't love me. My family won't accept me. And I say, so you walk around working, pretend that you're straight? And he said, yeah, I have to do that in order to survive. What is that drama?

SIMMONS: It's a shame.


You know, it's tough. I mean, you know, my, being a person shouldn't be judged by, you know, who they fall in love with, you know, who they feel is special to them, you know what I mean?

GRAY: I think homosexuality in the black community has been something that, like we said, we really don't talk about, that on the down low thing didn't really come about. I didn't know that there were that many brothers on the down low until the book came out myself. And I started educating myself on the topic because many of us live in the 51st state of the United States, and that's the state of denial.

LEMON: You see the president speaking to the largest gay rights organization in the country, really in the world, the HRC, saying that he is going to get rid of, abolish Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He's going to abolish the domestic partnership thing, defense of marriage act, I should say. He is going to -- he supports civil unions, didn't go far as to say he supported same-sex marriage.

As someone who is a church leader and also a community dealing with people who are on the down low, what does this do to you? As he said, this is a challenge. Do you agree with him?

LONG: We've had members of our congregation with a gay lifestyle, et cetera. And that's nothing that we can deny. A lot of times we never address it, we act like it wasn't there, et cetera. And when you get in the body of Christ and people of faith, I'm finding that different sides, the way you interpret scripture. I think the bottom line of the whole thing is, number one, respect, number two, love.

But if my conviction would be personally, if my conviction was, well, I don't believe in the gay lifestyle, and I believe it's not God's way. I should be respectful.

MCGOWAN: Don, I believe that if there's any place that our brothers and sisters who choose a different lifestyle should be accepted, it should be the church. They should be able to find love, embracing affirmation in the church from the pulpit.

PERRY: We could argue all night whether it's chosen or not. That's inconsequential. What we can in fact deal with is what is. If one person believes it's a choice, if another person believes it's part of who they are, in the end we're talking about a person who has identified him or herself as a homosexual. And as such, we need to treat that person with a certain level of respect.


LEMON: Up next -- health care. A crisis. Why black men have the shortest life expectancy in America. Is that part of the president's reform plan?


LEMON: It has been a rocky road for President Obama when it comes to health care reform though he's seen progress on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. So with so many illnesses affecting black men and so many without insurance. Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence" magazine. Health care reform is at the utmost important topic in the black community.

BURT-MURRAY: Absolutely. Absolutely. African-American men dealing with chronic illness, lack of access to health care, as well as the closing of so many hospitals within our communities. Health care reform is absolutely a critical issue for them.

LEMON: But also what we talked about here in this panel, we are what we eat.


LEMON: We are what we do physically, right?


LEMON: And we are what we think, emotionally. Let's listen.


LEMON: Where do you see the president as far as health care over the last year?

MCGOWAN: This is the only president that has gotten health care reform bill to this far in Congress. It's been past several congressional committees. So I commend him and his administration and congressional leaders on that front. But I do, Don, feel that in our communities we need to stress more of prevention, more of healthy eating.

LEMON: Your thoughts on health care?

PERRY: The kids wearing baby fat are really fat.


I mean, our kids are huge. You can go and see, you know, a lot of times you see an urban school play against -- that's funny.

LEMON: That was good.

PERRY: I do what I can.

LEMON: I knew what you were talking about, but it is good.

PERRY: Thank you.

You see an urban school in some case play against the suburban school and you'll see these thinner kids, the white kids there. We do have to begin to take some responsibility for the way in which we treat ourselves. Black men die 7.1 years before any other group. We die virtually of any disease that you can get at a higher rate than anybody.

LEMON: Shortest life expectancy.

PERRY: Anything that you can die of, we got you on it. So the fact that Barack Obama, the president of United States, is taking it upon himself to say that every person in the United States of America needs to have health care. He needs to be lauded for that.

LEMON: Drama?

SIMMONS: Well, I think up to this point, I mean, he's done a good job. You know, I mean, my opinions on the health care system and, you know, how it's run and it being its business is, you know, just that. But I think thus far, it being such a major important issue, you know, to the whole country is definitely important, and Barack has done a good job of really tackling it and what have you.

And, again, you know, we're dealing with such a short amount of time that he's been able to do, you know. But I'm one that, you know, I pay for my own health care, you know what I mean? Independently as, you know, many people may have done as well as my daughters and my families. So it's definitely an issue that I want to see go forward and what have you.

LEMON: Bishop, I know you see people all the time in church who don't have, especially African-Americans, who don't have health care, who don't have insurance.

LONG: The amazing thing, about a few weeks ago, we had a town- hall meeting at the church jointly with the Morehouse School of Medicine. And we had maybe 2,000, 3,000 folk. We asked, they were mostly primarily African-American, everyone stand up who does not have health care. And over half the audience stood up who did not have health care. And that absolutely blew me away because of the challenges we do have because of our lifestyle. There has to be a strong personal responsibility, eat right, exercise, and all that. But still other nations -- we call ourselves the nation, the superpower. But yet all other nations have provided health care for all the people, and we can't figure that out. There's a problem here.


LEMON: And ahead -- the elephant in the room - racism. Does electing a black president really mean we live in a post-racial society? Dr. Cornel West, never at a loss for words, outspoken on this issue, too.


LEMON: Race and racism. Unfortunately, part of the history of this country. Some thought the election of a black president meant the end of racism, equal opportunity for all. Well, this all reared its ugly head during the president's opposition on health care reform.

Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence" magazine. I recently sat down with Dr. Cornel West and raised this issue.

Listen to what he had to say.


CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR/AUTHOR: I believe there's an undercurrent, but it's not the major factor. Not at all. Because in the issues of class, economic injustice are really at the center of things.


LEMON: Is he right about that? That it's more about economic injustice rather than racism?

BURT-MURRAY: I think it's a mix of the two. You have people who have never been living this scared in their life before. You know, looking at unemployment rates, looking at the implosion of the financial markets, looking at the housing foreclosure situation. So these are people who are grappling with issues they never thought they'd had to deal with. And then you have these fringe groups that come into the conversation and raise the level of fear, and it becomes a perfect storm of this, you know, vitriol that you're seeing at these tea parties.

LEMON: Great conversation. Thank you so much.

My thanks to Angela Burt-Murray from "Essence" magazine. And we thank you for joining us.

I'm Don Lemon in Atlanta. I'll see you back here tomorrow night, 6:00, 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Have a great evening.