In 1985, legendary NAACP icon Tarea Hall Pittman said to me as a young teen, “Black people need to have a seat at the table wherever decisions are being made.” She did not just say the Democrat table. The point is, the problems of Black America require all hands on deck. No one should be stripped of their legitimacy or be discouraged from making a contribution to solve chronic problems because they are not registered in your political party and they seek a different approach. I have been told, “Two men in a burning house don’t have time to argue.” I don’t have all of the answers, but I believe if you are drowning at the deep end of the pool, the political party of the lifeguard becomes less relevant.
In my experience, it takes far more courage, independence, temperament and resolve to be Black and an active or elected Republican than to be a Democrat. I am a Black man with a long career in civil rights, business, and politics. I spent 24 years working for NAACP causes at the local, state, regional and national levels. In 1989, while simultaneously serving as a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors and President of the Grambling State University College Chapter, I joined the Republican Party. What should not come as a surprise is that I was the same guy, with the same passions, and the same concerns the day after I changed my voter registration. However, I had chosen to labor in a different political vineyard and I re-examined my perspective about government. I made a personal choice to be politically active in a place where I believe I can make the most difference on the issues that I care about over time.
Mine is a commitment steeped in tradition. A tradition of those who took the often lonely road less traveled. A tradition not of comfort or convenience, but a tradition of having the courage to stand for what you believe and to open doors where they may have previously been closed. I am committed to making my Party better from within, while being disciplined enough to bare my grievances from the inside and not publicly. This discipline comes from experience. Since 1989, I have worked at virtually every level, within the Republican Party. I have completed every political training school offered by the Republican National Committee and dozens offered at the state and local levels. I have worked to help build the Republican Party in 40 of the 50 states in this country. So, be it walking precincts, working phone banks, bundling mail, training candidates, or on the stump speaking I have done it all (as a Black man) within the Republican Party. I have been trained by the best and my track record is solid. Needless to say, I have paid my dues and often at a great price.
Yes, there is a price. First, I must clarify a very salient point. There is a difference between a Black Republican and a Republican who happens to be Black. A Black Republican is committed to represent the beauty, strength, brilliance, success, long suffering and the collective interests of 40 million Black Americans of African descent within the Party. A Black Republican must always be prepared, be professional, maintain a cool temperament, but have the courage to raise hell if need be to make the Party better. A Black Republican must be secure enough to stand alone and pay the price. That price is often one of personal pain and social frustration. A vigilant journey where one must fight for a seat at the table within the Party, only to be ostracized by segments of the Black community whose interests you seek to represent from within it. A Black Republican recognizes that candidates come and go, but the mission to build a critical mass of black perspective within the Party must weather any storm and is nothing short of essential in a two party political system.
A Black Republican who happens to be Black, I refer to as a “color blind” Black Republican. Departing from the traditions of the civil rights era, they tend to embrace a philosophy centered around the power of the individual rather than that of Black group dynamics. He/she may choose not to affiliate with race based organizations and may choose to prioritize their political ideology above all other political concerns. It is important to note however; “colorblind” Black Republicans look in the mirror every day. They are well aware of their ethnic heritage, and care about a wide range of issues. However, they embrace a perspective and share a point of view that does not comport with having a personal obligation to specifically advocate for Black people because they happen to be categorized as Black Americans. That is their right.
As for me, I am STILL a Black Republican. Firm in my own belief system, but constrained with a moral obligation to work with those who may share a different perspective. I too believe in freedom and the power of individual liberty. I believe in strong and efficient government with limited powers to serve and equally protect the interests of all people. Good government, in a normative sense, operates in the background of your life. Seen on occasion, but by no means should it be an impediment to one’s reasonable pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.
Yes, I am STILL a Black Republican. I am vexed with the awesome complexity of the problems facing 40 million Black people in America. I am constantly considering ways to make a difference in the lives of so many, but with only the time and resources to help a few. I choose to seize control of my fate and not be bound by what others may think of me or my journey. I am one who can hear the late Derrick Bell remind us that there are still “faces at the bottom of the well”. I am not immune to the pain of real people suffering with real problems, trying to make a way out of what seems to be no way. For, I too am a real person; living two steps from the blues on most days, but optimistic about my possibilities. It would be foolish to believe that my political party choice somehow washes away my experience and perspective on Black life. It just may be that my perspective and experience is different from yours.