South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Feb. 13 in...

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Feb. 13 in Chicago. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Joshua Lott

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said Thursday in Manhattan that the country must reverse generations of discrimination against black Americans by adopting policies to lift the community up for generations going forward.

"Let us be honest about disparities that did not happen by accident and will not go away on their own," he told the crowd of predominantly black voters at the National Action Network convention, hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said higher homeownership rates among African-Americans would be a means of building "generational wealth." He focused also on the areas of enterprise, health, education and justice.

He stressed his age in his call for lasting change.

“I believe that the time has come for a new generation to put forward leaders in enterprise, in activism and, yes, in our politics at the highest levels,” he said.

Buttigieg, an openly gay man and an Afghanistan War veteran, was the latest Democratic presidential hopeful to speak at the convention. Six others, including Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are slated to address the group Friday.

Buttigieg has surged in popularity since launching his exploratory committee in mid-January. Earlier Thursday, his campaign announced a “special announcement" to be made April 14 in South Bend. It was expected to be a speech making his bid for the White House official.

He said Thursday he would, as president, sign into law a bill by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to form a commission to study reparations as an atonement to African-Americans for slavery. He called the conversation about reparations “one of justice between generations."

He said he seeks an end to the death penalty, which has “always been a discriminatory practice."

The Democrat was applauded frequently throughout his speech. He pulled a smaller crowd than former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who took the stage Wednesday, but Buttigieg was commended for his remarks.

Sharpton thanked Buttigieg for “substance, not sound bites.”

Speaking later to reporters, Buttigieg expressed regret for using the phrase "all lives matter" in a South Bend "state of the city" speech. "What I did not understand at that time, was that phrase — just early into mid-2015 — was coming to be viewed as a sort of counter-slogan to Black Lives Matter," he said Thursday, referring to the movement to spotlight police brutality and other issues affecting African-Americans.

The mayor brought in about $7 million in first-quarter fundraising, his campaign said. He also has seen a surge in favorability in recent polling.

Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), a presidential candidate struggling to gain traction in the polls, also addressed the National Action Network on Thursday. He told reporters he is positioning himself as a moderate, centrist candidate. He said he would use his experience as an entrepreneur to advance policies benefiting Americans of color.

"I think I know much better than anyone else how to get investment capital flowing to minority communities, and I think that’s one of the most important things they need," Delaney said.

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