MIL-OSI USA: Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Moderated Conversation with Michael Ealy and Bakari Sellers on the Nationwide Economic Opportunity  Tour

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Source: The White House
Johnson C. Smith UniversityCharlotte, North Carolina
12:52 P.M. EDT
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everyone.
     AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon!
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Indeed.  (Laughs.)  Can we please applaud Desmond as he walks off the stage?  (Applause.)
     I have to say, Desmond, you are just — you are just an absolute model of what this tour is about.  And everything that you said about yourself, your upbringing, but also what you have done in terms of the — the young leaders that are leading in this effort — combining things like technology with longstanding needs of communities — you really are doing an extraordinary job.  Thank you for being such a big part of this.  (Applause.)
     MR. SELLERS:  And thank you.  Please give the Vice President of the United States of America another round of applause.  (Applause.)  We always love having you down South with us.
     And before I begin — I’m from the big city of Denmark, South Carolina, where we have three stoplights and a blinking light — (applause) — and I always tell people my mom and dad say the two most import words in the English language are the words “thank you,” and they’re not nearly said enough.
     And there are two people I have to acknowledge before we begin.  One is one of the greatest mayors in the United States of America, Vi Lyles.  Please give her a round of applause.  (Applause.)
     And the governor of North Carolina — but give a round of applause anyway.  I think he might have slid out.  (Applause.)
     MR. SELLERS:  And so, one of the things that I enjoy about just being in your space, Madam Vice President, is that you’re very intentional and you’re very purposeful.  And you’ve traveled across the country and met voters and met students in particular where they were and meeting people where they are.
     And you’ve — you’ve led the fight for reproductive rights.  You — you’ve challenged and talked about ending gun violence.  And now you’re on this Economic Opportunity Tour.
     I think the first question we have to ask is: Why this tour?  Why now?
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Bakari.  And thank you for your leadership and always using your voice in such a courageous and important way.
     And, Michael, thank you.  He has been on — just on the road with me for different — different events.
     Why this tour.  Well, most importantly, it’s because I feel very strongly that we need to be in the community listening and giving people information about the work that we have done that will help folks.  Because I’m very aware that, you know, we can do all this good stuff in Washington, D.C., but if it doesn’t hit the streets, it doesn’t matter.
     So, I’m on this tour to travel our country and — and describe what we have done with the full intention that the opinion leaders, the civic leaders, the community leaders that are here will help us get the word out so that people can take advantage of what is available to help them and, in particular, on the issue of, for this tour, economic opportunity.
     So, the tour is designed and what I’ve been talking about are two things in particular: the obstacles that exist that get in the way of people achieving their dreams around their economic future — intergenerational wealth, Desmond talked about that — to talk about the obstacles that exist that often are no fault of the individual but that are systemic and that we are working to — bypass. 
     And then, also, to explain to folks the opportunities that are available.  So, today, we’ll talk about obstacles like debt — a big issue that holds people back.  We’re going to talk about the opportunities that are available, such as access to capital, federal government contracts that can infuse communities and entrepreneurs and individuals with the resources that they need and that they rightly earn but don’t have access to otherwise.
     So, that’s the purpose of the tour.  I believe very strongly that the accomplishments of our administration — such as creating 15 million new jobs; creating over 800,000 new manufacturing jobs; the historic low unemployment, particularly for the Black community — are very important — critically important.  (Applause.)  
     And that is not to the exclusion of also understanding we have extraordinary capacity in leaders in the community who have incredible ideas, who are entrepreneurial, who are ambitious, who have aspirations that, yes, are about making sure everyone is employed but also the creation of wealth. 
     To aspire to create wealth is a good thing as far as I’m concerned — (applause) — if that is what one chooses.  I, on the other hand, have chosen to live a life of public service.  (Laughter.)  But I am all for any of you — get yours, if that’s what you want.  Right?  (Laughter.)
     MR. SELLERS:  We trying.  We definitely are.
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And so, that’s what this tour is about.  (Laughs.)
     MR. SELLERS:  You know, Madam Vice President, the greatest accomplishment in my life is getting Ellen Rucker Sellers to say “yes” and “I do” and I —
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And she is here.  (Applause.)  Where is she?  There —
     MR. SELLERS:  She’s also a —
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You are a saint.  (Laughs.)
     MR. SELLERS:  Oh, now she’s a saint.  Okay. 
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, she’s a saint.  (Laughter.)
     MR. SELLERS:  But she’s also a small-business owner.  And I see what she goes through with Rucker Roots and — and trying to make sure that her business excels.
     MR. SELLERS:  And one of the things that we talk about often is access to capital for entrepreneurship and small businesses.  And that’s something that’s been very important to you and the President of the United States.
     Tell us more about this work.  And why is it so important to be able to get these small businesses their access to capital?
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, let’s start with the point that Ellen knows well, which is that not everyone has access to the capital that is necessary to start up a business.  But it is not for lack of a good idea.  It is not for lack of — of an incredible work ethic.  It is not for lack of — of the ambition to actually create something that will not only benefit oneself or their family but also the community at — at large.
     And so, the focus of — of my work since my days in the Senate has been to expand access to capital and, in particular, to do that through community banks because — (applause) — community banks are self-defined.  They are situated in the community.  They are run and — and — by folks who know the community, know the capacity of the community, know the mores of the community, know the needs of the community, and — and are then able to give the kind of assistance that is about loans but also about helping folks with financial literacy, helping folks learn how to — to run a payroll, how to deal with business taxes.
     Because, many of us, we didn’t grow up learning that in our household, and we don’t really teach that in school.  And so — but it’s not for lack of — of anyone’s ability to learn it if there are resources that can teach it.  So, community banks have been my focus.
     When I was in the Senate, we got over $12 billion more into community banks.  And since I’ve been Vice President, we have partnered with the big banks and also technology companies to — as of now, it’s a — I created a thing called the Economic Opportunity Council, partnering with tech companies, foundations, and — and big banks, and now we’re getting over 3 billion more dollars into our community banks to create access to capital.  (Applause.)
     And what that means is that we also, then, working out of these community banks, get the word out on the street.  Bakari, Michael, one of the things that’s really interesting, the numbers I have are that Black entrepreneurs are three times less likely to apply for small-business loans.  And one of the main reasons why is because folks don’t want to be disappointed. 
     We know what that’s like.  It’s — it takes a lot to put yourself out there and to believe that you will be taken seriously and treated fairly.
     And so, that’s another issue that we are addressing with this tour and the work we’re doing through community banks is knowing you are welcome and you have a place where you can go that will treat you fairly and with respect and with the dignity that you so rightly deserve.  (Applause.)
     MR. EALY:  Madam Vice President, it’s an honor to be here with you today.  I think this tour is such a great idea.  And I think just — it’s working, one.  And, two, I think it’s always great for the people to hear directly from you what is happening, what is being done.
     I know an important issue for you is housing.
     MR. EALY:  And I know it’s been an important issue for you throughout your career.
     MR. EALY:  Being in California the last 20-plus years, I know how much work you’ve done there.  I know it’s at the forefront for you.  It was — it was at the forefront for you there; it’s at the forefront for you now in this administration. 
     The question I have is: It’s a priority, so what is the administration doing to help ease the burden of homeownership right now?
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, let’s start, as you know, Michael — and we’ve talked about this before — homeownership is one of the best ways to achieve intergenerational wealth. 
     MR. SELLERS:  Correct.
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right?  So, and — (applause) — and let’s think about it this way.  When you are able to — to buy a home — obviously, most — for most of us, with a mortgage, but when you are able to have a home that is yours that you own, you accrue capital, right? 
     And that means that when your child says, you know — okay, now everybody just — I think everybody in North Carolina can handle this — when your child says you want to go to Howard University — applause — (laughs).  I couldn’t help myself. 
     MR. SELLERS:  I — we — we know.  (Laughter.)
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  When their child says, “I want to go to a — an HBCU,” such as the one that we are so privileged to be in right now, you can say, “Honey, you don’t have to take out that loan; I’ll take some equity out my — out of the home.  You don’t have to take out a loan; I’ll take some equity out of the house to help you pay that tuition.”  Or if your child says, “I want to start a business,” you can say, “Honey, I can take some equity and — out of the home and help you with some startup capital.”
     Homeownership is one of the best ways that we achieve intergenerational wealth.  We also know that it is one of the — the — one of the many issues where we have seen incredible obstacles for Black families. 
     We don’t even need to go as far back as nobody got the 20 acres and a mule.  Let’s go to the fact that we recently celebrated D-Day.  And we rightly celebrated what we have called the “Greatest Generation.”  Well, there was a public policy, rightly, in our country, that said about that Greatest Generation: You have brought stability to the world; you, as American military members, most of whom were men, you have served your country and the world with such dignityto such great result, so we want to invest and reward you.
     And the federal policy, then, was to give them loans to help them buy homes.  And, as we know, we had plenty of Black servicemen who served in World War Two but because of discriminatory practices in terms of how those loans were given out —
     MR. SELLERS:  Yep.
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — did not receive the benefit of that boost that occurred in our country to help people achieve wealth.  So, there were preexisting disparities, and then you had this boost.
     You think about it in terms of the history of redlining.
     MR. SELLERS:  Yeah.
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You think it — about it in the history of what was called a — a whole federal policy around urban renewal, which basically resulted in freeways cutting through Black communities and other communities of color, thereby dividing up communities around what otherwise were thriving commerce communities.
     So, what we have been doing as an administration to deal with this issue is to, one, acknowledge the truth about the disparities — (applause) — and to seek out and i- — and identify the disparities and the built-in systems that still exist that create those obstacles to homeownership. 
     And I’m going to talk about one in particular: racial bias in home appraisals.
     MR. SELLERS:  Yeah.  (Applause.)
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, we decided to take that on.  Many of you may know the stories about a Black family that wants to sell their home and then has the appraiser come in, and the house is appraised for what they know is less than its value.And you probably know the stories about how they’ll then reach out to family, friends who are white and say, “Hey, will y’all come over, bring your family pictures.”  (Laughter.)  “We’re going to take down ours, and you invite the appraiser.”  And the home appraises for higher value.
     So, one of the issues that we are taking on is this issue and are now requiring that appraisers have racial bias training before they are able to do this work.
     We are also — (applause) — we are also giving, for people who are the first generation in their family to — to seek to buy a home, $25,000 grants for start-up capital to actually be able to pay down — (applause) — on homeownership — $25,000 if you are first or you are the generation that is the first in your family to be able to buy a home.
     The other thing we are doing is, for a certain tranche of folks, helping them — first-time homeowners — $400 a month in credits toward paying your mortgage.  (Applause.)
     And these issues are exactly the kind of issues that, when you address them, make a huge difference in terms of who’s able to buy a home.  And — and that matters. 
     And — and, you know, listen, I — this — you probably are sensing from the things that I am describing, we have been taking a critical look at the — those specific pieces of the system that have long gone overlooked, that are — you know, that — the story about the princess and the pea?  That seemingly small thing that makes all the difference?  These specific aspects of the system that have kept people from achieving their dreams.
     Another issue that we have been dealing with is federal contracts.
     So, if you get a federal contract, being very frank, unless you mess it up, it’s yours for life.  But what we know is that, when you’re talking about Black entrepreneurs, Black small-business owners, less likely to have the relationships or know the process for applying for a federal contract.
     When President Biden and I came in, we committed to increase federal contracts to minority-owned businesses by 50 percent, and we’re on track to get that done by the end of 2025.  (Applause.)
     Part of this tour is to create information and available to everyone here to know how you go about applying for federal contracts and which federal contracts are up.  Because remember, we also came in and are finally fixing the infrastructure problem in America.  (Applause.) 
     You know, somebody talked about Infrastructure Week, which never happened.  We actually got it done.  That — think about the number of contracts — federal contracts based on the money we are putting, literally, on the streets of America to upgrade our sidewalks and our bridges and our freeways.
     Do you know that the — 90 percent of construction companies employ 20 or fewer people?  Those are small businesses.
     And then we have all these — all this federal work that is happening around construction work.
     We passed the Inflation Reduction Act.  We’re putting, by my estimate, a trillion dollars on the streets of America in the next 10 years to deal with the extreme climate occurrences, adaptation, resilience, investing in a clean energy economy.  Those are federal contracts.
     So, when we make a commitment to increase by 50 percent federal contracts going to minority-owned businesses, think about what that can mean in terms of a boost to communities around the creation and sustaining of wealth and wealth generat- — generating businesses.  (Applause.)
     MR. EALY:  Wow.
     It’s — it’s amazing to hear it directly from her, isn’t it?  It’s just — it’s just amazing.  (Applause.)
     One of the things you brought up when we first sat down was you talked about how debt is affecting people, whether it be student loans or medical debt.
     MR. EALY:  How do you feel like the administration — what is the administration doing to help kind of address these obstacles?  And, you know, how can we move forward?
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right.  So, debt is probably one of the biggest issues that holds people back in our country.  And we decided to take it on, because, you know, the — our philosophy is that we want people to just be able to get by but get ahead.  And debt is one of those things that holds people back from getting ahead.
     So, we decided to take on, for example, the issue of student loan debt.  I will say that — here at this incredible HBCU — one of the things we know is that Black students are more likely to be Pell grant recipients and take out student loans and — and endure for years, if not decades, student loan debt and what that does to then hold back their ability to aspire to have a family, buy a home.
     So, we decided to take it on, and not without great opposition from people in — in Washington, D.C.  Let’s be clear about that.  They didn’t want this.  They said, “Well, I got mine.  You should be able to do yours” instead of taking into account, again, what we have already discussed in terms of the — where people start.
     Not everybody starts out on the same base.  Right?  And that’s part of our mentality in thinking about this.
     So, we have now forgiven over $160 billion in student loan debt — (applause) — benefitting about 5 million people.  I have met, just today, people who have had their student loan debt forgiven.
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Please testify.  (Laughter and applause.)
     And what it has meant — I’ve — for example, we’ve also doubled the amount of student loan debt that we have forgiven for public servants such as firefighters, nurses, teachers.  God knows we don’t pay them enough as it is.  (Applause.)
     So, this has been a gamechanger for so many — I met — I mean, I’ve met now a number of teachers, for example, who c- — who came up to me with tears about how for decades they’ve been living with tens if not as much as hundreds of thousands of student loan debt, but they love teaching so much that they would not leave the profession, but they would tell me about other teachers who just couldn’t afford with those salaries being so low and that debt to get by.
     So, again, it’s not only about our accomplishments on the issue of the creation of wealth, it — it’s equally important, Bakari and Michael, to understand why.  You got to see people.  And understand that — that people have many facets to their life.  And when people work hard and do good work, the system should reward that.  Right?  (Applause.)     Medical debt — so, medical debt — medical debt, for the most part, comes about because of a medical emergency for the majority of people.  Which means what?  It wasn’t planned.  Nobody asks to be sick or experience a medical debt.  It’s not something bring about themselves.  And it can result in, again, tens of if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt as a result of that medical emergency.     And forever, until now, that could count against your credit score. 
     Your credit score is supposed to be a measure of: Are you finically responsible?  Why would we say that medical is a measure of whether you’re finically responsible?  That doesn’t make any sense.  And it’s not right.
     So, we have now made it so that medical debt cannot be a part in calculating your credit score.  (Applause.)
     And, you know, now, because there’s so many apps, most people know their credit score like you know how much you weigh.  Right?  (Laughter.)  And you know what that number means in terms of your eligibility for a car loan, home loan, or even just to get an apartment lease.  So, this is going to be a gamechanger for so many people.
     And, again, it’s about — debt is — is not just about a financial number.  It’s about how it weighs on people to keep them back when they’re working hard and want to move forward.  And so, I’m particularly proud of what we’ve done on medical debt.
     I must say, as a point of emphasis — because, again, to the opinion leaders, I need your help — on the student loan debt piece, please remind people to apply for it and not think that, “Oh, if I apply, I’m not going to get it.”  I’ve met a lot of people who have told me that.  “I didn’t apply for it because I didn’t think I’d get — I’d be eligible.”  One.
     Two, please help get the word out: You are entitled to student loan forgiveness even if you did not graduate.  Help us get the word out.  (Applause.)  Because, again, it’s about creating public policies that are just logical. 
So, what’s the logic in that?  Okay, a lot of people drop out because they can’t afford to pay tuition.
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And before they dropped out, they were taking out student loans.
The student loan company ain’t saying, “Well, since you didn’t graduate, you don’t owe us.”  So, people who had to drop out still owe that debt.
So, that’s why we created the policy to be intentional, Bakari — to be intentional.  Even if you didn’t graduate, you’re eligible.
MR. SELLERS:  You know, I’m going to use just a slight bit of personal privilege, because you — you talked about being intentional for this last question.  And I think that the White House and yourself have been very intentional about having Michael and I lead this conversation.  (Applause.)
MR. SELLERS:  And why I say that is because having Black men a part of this conversation is so very important.  (Applause.)
MR. SELLERS:  And we need — we need the individuals who are under the sound of our voice to go out and be apostles of the good news.
MR. SELLERS:  And so, when people ask what is the White House doing about Black men, you can say that we had a conversation about economic mobility and — and was very diverse in our thought.
And also, we — I saw some Jack and Jillers earlier today.  I know they’re having their convention this week.  (Applause.)  But this is a room full of — and I hate the word “future leaders.”  I hate that, because they’re really the leaders of right now.
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Current leaders, yep.
MR. SELLERS: And you’re — you’re also intentional about doing this at an HBCU.  (Applause.)  And this institution is one of the greatest HBCUs.  Now, Michael — Michael may not know this, but the greatest HBCU is Morehouse College.  But I digress.  (Laughter.)
But what would your advice be —
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You do you, Bakari.  You do you.
MR. SELLERS:  (Laughs.)  Howard is in the top 10-ish.  (Laughter.)
So, what advice would you give this room full of the leaders of right now — not future leaders, but these young people who are the leaders of this moment that we’re in?
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  The first piece of advice I have is dream with ambition.  And never apologize for your ambition.  Never for apologize for that.  It is a good thing to have ambition.  (Applause.)
I will also say this: I eat “no” for breakfast.  I don’t hear “no.”  And many times in your life, you’re going to hear “no.”  Someone is going to — maybe even many people will say to you, “Oh, it’s not your time.  Oh, nobody like you has done that before.  Oh, they’re not ready for you.”  And then I love this next one: “Oh, that’s going to be hard work.”  (Laughter.}  Really?
Don’t hear that.  Don’t ever hear that.
And I — oh, I’ve got a whole lot of advice.  The other piece of advice I would offer — (laughter) — see, you just opened that up. 
Many times, you’re going to find you are — whether you are in a board room, a meeting room, in a room where you need to pitch, where you’re going to be the only one that looks like you in that room.  (Applause.)
And what you must remember — and I’d ask you to look around this room right not — what you must remember is you are never in that room alone.  We are all in that room with you, expecting that when you walk in that room, you walk in chin up, shoulders back, understanding the voice and the voices that you carry that are so proud of you being in that room and are applauding your presence in that room.  (Applause.)  That is critically important.  That is critically important. 
You’ve got to be able to see what can be, unburdened by what has been.
And never allow yourself to put any barriers on yourself based on other people’s limited ability to see who can do what.  (Applause.)  That’s their problem, not yours.
MR. SELLERS:  Yes, ma’am.
Before you do the — before you do the rope line, may I ask you for a favor?
MR. SELLERS:  It’s Michael’s favor.  Can we take a selfie right here?
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Yes, absolutely.  (Applause.)
MR. SELLERS:  All right, thank you.
     THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Oh, but I do have one more thing.
A week from today is Juneteenth.  (Applause.)  And I would a- — so, we have decided and I have issued a call to action.  It’s a — it’s our newest federal holiday.  I was proud, as — as a member of the United States Senate, to sponsor a piece of legislation to make it a holiday.  And — and a lot of people had been wondering: Of the various ways that traditionally Juneteenth has been celebrated, as now it is a national holiday, how do we do it going forward?
And what I’d ask is everyone to consider: In addition to your normal tradition for Juneteenth, think of it as a day of action to register people to vote — (applause) — please.
Thank you.
END                  1:20 P.M. EDT