Tavis Smiley (at mic) with Tom Burrell, Minister Farrakhan & Jesse Jackson

*On the eve of a crucial vote in Congress on health care legislation, thousands of African-Americans gathered in Chicago to urge President Barack Obama to pay more attention to blacks.

The gathering and panel discussion was organized by television and radio host Tavis Smiley and will be televised on C-SPAN.

Among those taking part were Rev. Jesse Jackson of the RainbowPUSH Coalition, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Princeton University Prof. Cornell West.

The group discussed such matters as education, the economy and importance of the ‘black agenda’ to U.S. political parties.

The president has pointed to his efforts to overhaul the health care system, rebuild the economy and improve education as inclusive policies that will affect the nation as a whole, while also improving conditions for minorities who have suffered disproportionately in the recession.

But many blacks have become increasingly frustrated with Obama for failing to develop programs targeting the hardest-hit communities.

“President Obama is not addressing our black agenda because he has been told (by some black leaders) that he doesn’t have to,” said former Chicago Ald. Dorothy Tillman, one of 12 panelists at Saturday’s symposium at Chicago State University. “We are so happy to have a black face in the White House that we think we have to get back in our place.”

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