Hijacking a Tribute to Pioneering Black Republicans

Red Black and Green Elephant

A year ago, I went to see Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), who happens to be a good friend. I wanted his approval for an idea that I had. The previous year, the GOP had just come off of a disastrous election cycle with Mitt Romney losing his bid to become president. Barack Obama had beaten him in every demographic except White males. Reversing recent inroads into the Black community, Romney received only 4 percent of the African American vote.

Rather than simply bemoan that setback, I suggested that we create an annual Black History Month honor to be called the Black Republican Trailblazer Award. Essentially, it was a luncheon to recognize, pay homage to, and to honor African American Republicans who have paved the way for people like me and others to be active in our party while making a major contribution to America along the way.

Priebus immediately saw the value of my idea and gave me the green-light to move forward, though some staffers were not enthusiastic about the idea. I offered to raise money to underwrite the event, but Priebus insisted that the RNC pay for it.

The 2013 honorees were William T. Coleman and Robert J. Brown. Our keynote speaker was David L. Steward. Coleman was the brains, along with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, behind the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. He was Secretary of Transportation under President Gerald R. Ford.

Bob Brown was the highest ranking Black staffer for former President Richard Nixon. Coleman and Brown were both civil rights icons who never forgot their obligation to fight on behalf of Blacks. The keynote speaker was Dave Steward, head of World Wide Technology in St. Louis. He operates the largest Black-owned business in the U.S. with annual revenues in excess of $ 6 billion.

I was able to organize and execute the event in less than 30 days, despite people trying to sabotage me every step of the way. We had more than 250 people in attendance, probably 40 percent of them were Democrats who appreciated our honorees’ trailblazing contributions.

Fast forward to 2014 when the honorees were former Assistant Secretary of Labor Bill Brooks, former Ohio Supreme Court Judge, Sara Harper and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Louis Sullivan. The keynote speaker was former Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams.

Though Priebus didn’t know it, members of his staff had unilaterally decided that they no longer needed me and organized the event without me or my input. Just looking at the names of this year’s awardees, you can tell that I had nothing to do with it: Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Congressman Will Hurd (R-Texas), and Congressman Mia Love (R-Utah). They are good and honorable people whose election to Congress as Black Republicans were historic – but not trailblazing.

An award is something you are given; an honor is something you have earned. They deserve an award, but not this honor.

In my view, a true trailblazer should be like a candle: they should consume themselves to serve as a light for others. The more light a candle gives, the less noticeable it becomes. Without a doubt, Bill Coleman, Bob Brown, and Sara Harper are trailblazers. They not only helped change America, but they also opened doors within the Republican Party for Blacks like me.

Because the RNC staff has prostituted and perverted the clear intent of the annual Black Republican Trailblazer luncheon, I cannot, in good conscious, attend this year’s event. To all my supporters who packed the first two events, I apologize. This was not of my making and I regret I am just finding out about this gross betrayal of trust.

To those who have asked whether I am leaving the party, the answer is an emphatic no. I can’t walk away because of petty staff jealousies over my personal relationship with the chairman. To walk away now would be a betrayal to everything these Black Republican trailblazers endured.

To avoid being placed in this position again, however, I am going to narrow the scope of my work strictly to party organizations and elected officials who are going to treat me with the respect that I deserve and have earned over the past 25 years. No longer will I be so quick to reflexively roll up my sleeves when the party is in need.

I am determined to walk the path that Bill Coleman, Bob Brown, Sara Harper, and Dave Steward have blazed before me. To do anything less we make me unworthy of their sacrifices.

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One thought on “Hijacking a Tribute to Pioneering Black Republicans

  1. cordeg says:

    Sir: while i understand your complaint, i think that your response is overwrought. clearly, you had a good concept for what this award was all about — “trailblazing” in the sense of helping to create a path from where America WAS to where it OUGHT TO BE. however, by its very definition, this suggests “historic” achievements in the sense of being “of the past” rather than merely “standing out in our history”. thus, the appropriateness of the names you mentioned during your own leadership in choosing awardees. nonetheless, it is reasonable for some in the party to seek to avoid the “but what have you done for me lately?” position that Democrats tend to emphasize whenever Republicans rightly note that it was the GOP and not the Democratic Party that led the cause of Civil Rights for a century while the latter was fighting tooth and nail in opposition. thus, they likely look to names like Scott, Hurd, and Love in an attempt to demonstrate that the GOP has not abandoned support for the aspirations of African Americans to not only not be constrained to accept where they should sit but also to not be constrained to accept how they should think. this is in fact a contemporary trail that such political newcomers are blazing, even though these choices eschew landmark achievements of the past in favor of — so far — lesser concrete achievements of the present. if i were on the selection committee, i would likely have pushed to have both ends of the spectrum represented — past and present — but i can understand the zeal to be contemporary well enough to forgive this somewhat clumsy attempt to carry it off. i would implore you to change you mind, attend the event, AND press your position to every other attendee of note. it is only by such friction that the shape of things are changed.

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