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Equality & Social Progress

The Administration’s work included pushing through sweeping rights and protections for LGBT Americans, making our immigration system fairer and safer, and tackling poverty and investing in communities.

Invested in Education

The Obama Administration catalyzed significant state education reforms to adopt higher academic standards to prepare students for college and careers, which 49 states and the District of Columbia have done. Additionally, the Administration invested in great teachers and leaders, and turned around low-performing schools through $4 billion in Race to the Top competition. Following these reforms, the high school graduation rate reached its highest level ever recorded, dropout rates fell sharply for low-income and minority students, and since 2008, college enrollment for African-Americans and Hispanics has increased by more than one million students.

President Barack Obama, wearing a light blue button-up shirt and a blue tie with white specks, holds a black magnifying glass and looking toward a young girl with a light skin tone. There is a young boy sitting on the left hand side of President Barack Obama with a deep skin tone and a blue shirt with gray sleeves holds a blue and clear magnifying glass looking toward toys that are sitting on the table in front of them. There are other young individuals of a variety of skin tones blurred out in the photo.

President Barack Obama visits a pre-kindergarten classroom at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Ga., Feb. 14, 2013. (Photos courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

President Obama wearing a light blue button-up shirt, a dark blue tie, and black pants stands with his arms folded and laughs in a room with other individuals of a variety of skin tones. There is a wooden table with a laptop, cardboard, straws, and other craft materials on top. In the background are a white-board, books, and other posters on top of a blue and yellow wall in what appears to be a school classroom.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, N.Y., Oct. 25, 2013. (Photos courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

August 3, 2010

Fought for a Fairer Criminal Justice System

In August 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduces the disparity in the amounts of powder cocaine and crack cocaine required for the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences and eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. It also increases monetary penalties for major drug traffickers.

Additionally, in July 2015, President Obama visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside of Oklahoma City, marking the first visit by a sitting President to a federal prison.

President Obama Visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution

If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to not only have to help the police, we're going to have to think about what can we do — the rest of us — to make sure that we're providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we're reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we're not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we're making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs. … And there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that.”

President Obama, Tuesday, April 28, 2015

December 13, 2010

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act updated school meal nutrition standards for the first time in 15 years and increased school meal funding for the first time in 30 years. The law boosted the quality and nutrition of meals for over 50 million children through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Its regulations substantially increased offerings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and reduced the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.

First Lady Michelle Obama, wearing a tan, red, and black patterned sweater and blue pants, reaches over a lunch table and touches the head of a young boy with a deep skin tone. Also sitting at the table are three young individuals with light-medium skin tones. There are a variety of young individuals sitting in the background blurred out.

Mrs. Obama has lunch with students at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., Jan. 25, 2012. Mrs. Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the school to sample a healthy meal that meets the United States Department of Agriculture's new and improved nutrition standards for school lunches. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing. And our hopes for their future should drive every single decision that we make.”

Michelle Obama, December 13, 2010

Improved Veterans’ Service

Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden launched Joining Forces in 2011 and have seen incredible impacts since that time.

Employment: Through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, more than 82,000 military spouses have been hired by nearly 300 private- and public-sector partners since the program launched, and more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired through Joining Forces-allied companies. 50 states have enacted legislation removing credentialing impediments for separating service members and 49 states have enacted legislation assisting in license portability for military spouses.

Education: More than 100 colleges and universities have signed on to “Educate the Educators”, the Joining Forces commitment that will help prepare educators to lead classrooms and develop school cultures that are more responsive to the social, emotional, and academic needs of children in military families. All 50 states have signed on to the Military Child Education Compact to support military students and families.

Wellness: Mrs. Obama launched the Campaign to Change Direction, a mental health public awareness campaign, garnering commitments to teach the “5 Signs” to more than 145 million people. Through a network of medical and mental health professional organizations, this campaign has created opportunities to prepare the nation’s current and future healthcare work force to meet the unique health needs of service members, veterans, and their families.

Travels with the First Lady and Dr. Biden - Joining Forces Launch

President Obama wearing a brown jacket and khaki pants leans over and fistbumps another man with a light skin tone wearing a black jacket. There is a crowd full of people with a variety of skin tones. They are all sitting outside.

President Barack Obama greets veterans before the Carrier Classic basketball game between the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and Michigan State Spartans on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, docked at North Island Naval Station in San Diego, Calif., Nov. 11, 2011. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


President Obama shakes the hand of a male biker with a light skin tone wearing black shorts, a blue and white shirt, and a black helmet. There are a group of bikers behind the biker and there are two individuals with black suits standing

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki encourage participants during the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House, April 17, 2014. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


First Lady Michelle Obama wearing a tan jacket and black pants stands on the grass amongst three individuals with light skin tones wearing tan jackets and black pants. In the background there are baseball teams and a stadium full of people with a variety of skin tones.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, with veteran James Sperry and his daughter, Hannah, pause for the national anthem prior to Game 1 of the World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 19, 2011. The First Lady and Dr. Biden attended the game as part of their Joining Forces initiative. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


A woman with a white and red sweater hugs a man with a light skin tone wearing a military uniform. There is a large group of other men with a variety of skin tones around the, also wearing military uniforms.

First Lady Michelle Obama greets Marines following her remarks to 3,000 Marines, soldiers, sailors, and military family members at Memorial Field House in Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 13, 2011. The event was part of the launch of Joining Forces, a national initiative to support and honor America's service members and their families. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


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February 27, 2014

Launched “My Brother’s Keeper”

On February 27, 2014, the President launched “My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) and issued a powerful call to action to close opportunity gaps still faced by too many young people, and often by boys and young men of color in particular. The President’s announcement encouraged candid dialogues around the country and a greater sense of responsibility among community leaders, and young people themselves to put all youth in a position to thrive, regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

More than $500 million in non-federal grants and in-kind resources and $1 billion in independently committed financing have aligned with objectives of the MBK initiative.

The My Brother's Keeper Initiative

That’s what ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ is all about. Helping more of our young people stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works – when it works, in those critical life-changing moments.”

President Barack Obama, February 27, 2014
President Barack Obama meets with My Brother's Keeper mentees

President Barack Obama meets with My Brother's Keeper mentees during lunch in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2015. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

Fought for Fair Pay for All Genders

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, empowering workers to recover wages lost to discrimination by extending the time period for parties to bring pay discrimination claims, and took other steps helping to shrink the gender pay gap by more than 10 percent.

Additionally, he signed an April 2014 Executive Order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation, further strengthening equal pay laws.

The Right to Equal Pay for Equal Work

President Barack Obama signs executive actions

President Barack Obama signs executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women, at an event marking Equal Pay Day in the East Room of the White House, April 8, 2014. The President signs the Presidential Memorandum -- Advancing Pay Equality Through Compensation Data Collection, and an Executive Order regarding Non-Retaliation for Disclosure of Compensation Information. Lilly Ledbetter stands to the left of the signing table. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

November 25, 2014

Reformed Our Immigration System

On November 21, 2014, the President established the White House Task Force on New Americans—a government-wide effort tasked with better integrating immigrants and refugees into American communities.

In June of 2012 the President implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy for young undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children in an effort to better focus enforcement resources. Since its establishment, the Department of Homeland Security has approved close to 740,000 DACA requests on a case-by-case basis. More than 526,000 individuals have also successfully renewed DACA.

Audience members react as President Barack Obama delivers remarks

Audience members react as President Barack Obama delivers remarks on immigration at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, Nev., Nov. 21, 2014. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


President Obama meets with a group of people with various skin tones in the oval office.

President Barack Obama meets with DREAMers to discuss how they have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration reform program, in the Oval Office, Feb. 4, 2015. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


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December 19, 2014

Expanded Opportunities for Those with Disabilities

On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, which allows individuals with disabilities receiving benefits to earn assets without risk of losing needed health benefits and income assistance

On February 10, 2015, Vice President Biden hosted an event at the White House with Members of Congress to highlight the benefits and achievements of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The Act creates a new savings account for families with people with disabilities.

Vice President Biden Hosts an Event to Highlight the ABLE Act

March 7, 2015

Race and the Presidency, from Ferguson to Selma

On March 7, 2015, the First Family traveled to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery.

President Obama Delivers Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma Marches

We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary.”

President Barack Obama, March 7, 2015
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama join hands with Rep. John Lewis

President Barack Obama and Mrs. Obama join hands with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. as they lead the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, in Selma, Ala., March 7, 2015. Malia and Sasha Obama join hands with their grandmother, Marian Robinson. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

Invested in Neighborhoods and Communities

On April 30, 2010, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Promise Neighborhood program and designated 22 Promise Zones across the country to revitalize communities by attracting private investment, creating jobs, improving access to affordable housing, expanding educational opportunities, and partnering with local leaders to navigate federal programs.

In July 2011, the Obama Administration launched Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2), a partnership between the federal government and mayors of chronically distressed cities that have faced significant long-term challenges in developing and implementing their economic strategies. As part of the President’s priority to strengthen the middle class, create jobs, and build ladders of opportunity as communities regain their economic footing, SC2 named 14 locations to receive technical advice and expertise from federal inter-agency teams.

In 2015, the White House launched “Rural Impact,” a cross-agency effort led by the White House Rural Council to combat poverty and improve upward mobility in rural and tribal places by innovating program delivery in key programs, including designating ten rural communities for a demonstration that will provide targeted technical assistance to help communities adopt a two-generation approach to programs, policies, and systems to better meet the needs of low-income kids and parents.

President Obama Announces the First Five Promise Zones

Ensured Equality for LGBT Americans

In December 2010, the President signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law, allowing gay men and women to serve openly and with integrity in the U.S. military.

In February 2011, the Administration announced it would cease legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act’s provision defining marriage as only between a man and woman, leading to the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions holding the Act unconstitutional.

Throughout his presidency, President Obama advocated in favor of a Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality for same-sex couples—a position the Supreme Court vindicated in its historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015.

The President Speaks on the Supreme Court’s Decision on Marriage Equality

White House lit with the colors of the rainbow

June 26, 2015

"It was a festive atmosphere as the White House was lit with the colors of the rainbow in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. I chose this angle from several options because I like that much of the White House staff had stayed late on a Friday night to take part in the celebration." (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it has guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall... That is our generation's task — to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.”

President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013

January 4, 2016

Took Action on Gun Violence

Gun violence has taken a heartbreaking toll on too many communities across the country. Over the past decade in America, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence—and millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place.President Obama and Vice President Biden were committed to using every tool at the Administration’s disposal to reduce gun violence.The Obama Administration directed an overhaul of the background check system to make it more efficient and effective. The Administration clarified that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet: If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks. The Administration also ensured States are providing records to the background check system, and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting.Additionally, the Administration issued a memo directing every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts, and called for significant new resources to increase access to mental health care.

There is a hand with a medium-deep skin tone writing on a sheet of paper using a thin black sharpie marker. The text on the paper that stands out is "No Guns!"

President Barack Obama signs letters from children backstage after signing executive orders and unveiling new gun control proposals as part of the Administration’s response to the Newtown, Conn., shootings, and other tragedies, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Jan. 16, 2013. The children wrote the President letters in the wake of the Newtown tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


President Obama sits at a square black table with space in the middle. There are a group of individuals around him with different skin tones. There is a white wall behind him with with multiple plaques and photos on it and four flags in front of it.

President Barack Obama participates in a roundtable discussion on gun violence with local law enforcement officials and community leaders at the Denver Police Academy in Denver, Colo., April 3, 2013. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)


President Barack Obama, wearing a black blazer, faces a woman with a light skin tone wearing a red blazer dress with a silver rose pin and glasses. Also, standing next to President Obama is a man with a light skin tone wearing a dark blue blazer.

President Barack Obama greets former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, in the Oval Office after they testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, Jan. 30, 2013. (Courtesy Barack Obama Presidential Library)​


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Supported the FCC’s Net Neutrality Decision

President Obama supported the FCC’s “net neutrality” decision to adopt the strongest rules possible to ensure Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot become gatekeepers to the Internet’s content or create paid fast lanes for access to the best services.

President Obama's Statement on Keeping the Internet Open and Free

Commuted Over 1,000 Sentences

President Obama fought for a smarter and more equitable criminal justice system. He committed to using all the tools at his disposal to remedy the unfairness at the heart of the system—including the presidential power to grant clemency.

President Obama commuted the sentences of 1,715 individuals — which includes 568 life sentences — the most grants of commutation issued by any President in this nation’s history, and more than the total number of commutations issued by the past 13 presidents combined. President Obama also granted a total of 212 pardons.

A bar chart with the title "To date, President Obama has granted more commutations than the past 12 presidents combined." 1,385 at the end of the longest bar is highlighted in a call out bubble. Other presidents leading back to Roosevelt shower smaller bars.
President Obama, eyes squinted and large smile, looks at a child through a big black magnifying glass. They appear to be in a classroom with other children nearby.

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