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Biden, Nixon and local officials announce federal funding for summer jobs program

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 17, 2009 - At Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club, it was all about fulfilling dreams.

That was the message from Vice President Joe Biden, as he laid out to about 20 students what he and President Barack Obama -- and local officials -- hope to do with a summer-jobs program, bolstered with $25 million in federal money. The program would pair up to 5,000 Missouri students -- about 1,600 in the St. Louis area -- with some of the region's major companies, including BJC Health Systems.

"To give you an opportunity to actually be exposed to things,'' Biden said. Then he asked about their dreams:

One student wants to be an early-childhood educator. Another wants to be in marketing.

But what really got Biden excited was when Sequoia Hudson, 17, of Vashon High School, said she wanted to be a neurosurgeon. "A neurosurgeon! I love neurosurgeons,'' Biden declared, as he put his arm around her.

"They took the top of my head off twice,'' Biden explained, referring to brain surgery he has undergone years ago for aneurysms.

Biden also provided a brief reprise of the remarks he'd made earlier at the University of Missouri St. Louis about the importance of education and making college more affordable.

Biden told a small group of teens and their parents that if they want to go to college -- and have the grades -- they will get to go. That's the Obama-Biden goal, he said.

Biden also told the group, "No one can say ever again that 'I can't do it because I'm not a white guy!'" He cited U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. and County Executive Charlie Dooley, also present, as role models.

"No excuses. Every single one of you can be whatever you want to be!"

Later, in impromptu remarks to grade-school children lining the street, Biden also brought up the importance of desegregation throughout society. He praised the father of U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, the former U.S. Rep. William Clay, and said that both Clays exemplify the philosophy that "if you don't like what the law is, be one of the guys who changes it."

Economic Themes

Biden also tried to put into easy-to-understand language the Obama administration's economic policies -- and problems. With no jobs, or fear of losing them, people "don't go out and buy a new car. They don't go out and buy a new television.''

Also they don't go out and eat as much. For the restaurant cook, Biden said, that means the cook has less money and has to cut back on hair cuts. In short, there's a domino effect.

That's one of the reasons for the hefty federal spending, he said. The problem for the Obama administration wasn't just fixing the existing economy, the vice president continued. "We had to use that money to build a new kind of economy."

Biden praised wind-energy farms as an example of new "green jobs'' that can replace the oil the U.S. buys from the Middle East, he said.

Then he talked about importance of modernizing health care, such as electronic records, and winterizing people's homes. With all those new technologies, "you're going to be the ones making those changes," he added. 

Jobs Team 

After the session at Mathews-Dickey, Biden, Nixon, Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced a summer employment program. Next-Generation Jobs Team will help match up to 5,000 young people with  summer internships and work experiences.

Nixon said that "cutting-edge firms" would "help to make Missouri healthier" by providing jobs and "opportunties across the state." 

He added, "We're investing in human capital by training young Missourians." As if to illustrate the point, Biden turned and pointed to the teenagers nearby. "The reinvestment stands behind us," said Biden, referring to the teens.

As if to underscore his commitment to kids, Biden then sprinted across a water-soaked field to shake hands with dozens of students and teachers from the City Academy who were lining Penrose.

As he stood in the street, Biden offered wide-ranging comments on desegregation and Obama's popularity around the world. Then, before jumping into his limousine, Biden abruptly changed gears. "Here's the deal: How many of you boys have sisters?"

As he scanned the hands that shot up, Biden recounted how his sister managed his campaign and helped him in many ways during his life. "I wouldn't be vice president without her," he said.

The lesson for the boys? "Take care of your sisters and they'll take care of you."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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