Anthony, thank you very, very much for everything that you've done, and also for our friendship. I've been so very blessed by Anthony Brown, and his friendship, and his professionalism, his expertise, especially on health care. So let's make the most of these next two and a half years, and the eight after that.
To everyone here, thank you for joining us for the Black History Month Reception at your house, at Government House. I was fond of saying when I was Mayor of Baltimore that every month is Black History Month. The same might well be said as Governor of Maryland. I mean, every month is Black History Month. Were it not for black families, black leaders, black individuals, we would not be making the history that we are as a State, and the progress that we're making.
I consider myself very fortunate for a number of reasons. God's been very good to me, and one of the ways that he's been so good to me, is that he allowed me to serve in elective office in a majority African American district in the City Council. Agnes Welsh remembers those days when I was young and brash and had a lot more hair. And then to be able to serve the People of Baltimore in those critical turnaround years, where we proclaimed our belief in one another, our belief in what we could accomplish together, and really echoed the words of that great American, Frederick Douglass, who said, "We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other if we are to succeed. "
I wanted to speak with you briefly. We're doing a number of important things together. We've achieved the lowest number of foreclosures in our State since 2006. It is now down at a four-year low. Thanks to our President's leadership, we are defending every home as if it's our own. Because we know that every home is important and we're not done with that fight yet. We're making progress, like cutting in half the achievement gap between our African American and white children in elementary, math and reading. Progress like increasing awards to African American firms through the Minority Business Enterprise initiative -- even in a recession we actually increased our MBE. In fact, since 2007 we increased by 62% the contracting that we do with African American-owned firms in this State. And there are over 1,500 African Americans who serve on boards and commissions of every description, shape, and size in our State. That represents 23% of all our appointees.
The theme of this year's Black History month, I understand, is Black Women in American Culture and History. And all of us know the story of one of the most famous African American women in Maryland history, Harriett Tubman, who helped free more than 700 of her fellow Americans in the Underground Railroad, never once losing a single passenger. I encourage you to visit our national historic park in Dorchester County, where we will honor her life and work.
The story that you might not know, that I didn't know, was the story of a group of African American women, and a few men, in Baltimore who came together to raise funds to support Ms. Tubman in her final years. You know, we think of these iconic figures as if they're like a million years ago, we can't touch them, we don't know anybody who knew them. That's certainly not the way I felt when I was surrounded by her family with you, Mayor, and her descendants. I read the Narrative of the Life of a Slave and there's that saddest of chapters in there where he talks about his grandmother, and how she ended her last days.
Well, these men and women in Baltimore came together and raised money and called themselves the Harriett Tubman Circle, and the group was devoted to civil rights and equality for all. They raised money to make sure that this great American woman would be able to live out her last days in dignity.
One of the women who helped organize the group was none other than Lillie May Jackson -- who went on to become the longest-serving president of the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, tremendous force in politics. It's said that Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin once said of her, "I'd rather have the devil after me than Mrs. Jackson. Give her what she wants." Mrs. Lillie May Jackson was the mother of Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first African American woman to practice law in Maryland and a leader for integration. And she is the great-grandmother of our own Delegate Keiffer Mitchell.
It's easy to see tonight that so many of the women in this room have followed in the footsteps of those brave women, working tirelessly in our communities, making our State and our nation better by making their families better. There is no more important place in our State than a family's home. There is no more important seat at any table than the seat at a family's kitchen table. It is because of African American women that we can hold our heads high as Marylanders and as Americans and say that our better days are ahead of us because of the love that they carried through some very, very dark days.
For all the diversity of our State, I am always struck by the things that unite us, and none more powerful than the belief in the dignity of every individual. You know, in 2014, we'll celebrate the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner. One of the stories that we will tell as part of that is that banner, that giant symbol of our great nation and what we could become, that was raised over Baltimore that had no federal government to back it up in its defense, was defended by the people of that city who believed enough in one another to come together, 60% of them immigrants, one in five of them black citizens of the United States, many of whom were not yet free.
But that flag was sewn together not only by Mary Young Pickersgill and her daughters, but also by black indentured servants. So if you ever go visit that flag as we approach the bicentennial, think of that thread that held those Stars and Stripes together. I will submit to you that it is the thread of human dignity. The dignity of every home. The dignity of every person. The dignity of every child. The dignity that allows us to say with Frederick Douglass, that "we are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other if we are to succeed." Thank you very much.