On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to celebrate Black History Month as seen through two very different lenses with events held by the Republican National Committee (“RNC”) and another one at the White House. February is a time when many organizations are hosting events to honor the accomplishments of African Americans in America. The White House event consisted of a forum given by Association for the Study of African American Life and History (“ASALH”). The RNC event was a luncheon at the historic Howard Theatre honoring the recent political black Republican wins and a tribute to former Senator Edward Brooks and co-hosted by Roland Martin. Both evoked the singing of Lift Every Voice and Sing, known as the “Negro National Anthem”. But that is where the similarities ended.
At the RNC Trailblazer luncheon, the honorees were Senator Tim Scott (R. SC), Congresswoman Mia Long (R. UT), Congressman William Hurd (R. TX)and the legendary Senator Edward Brooke who recently passed in January, 2015. RNC Chair Reince Priebus touted successes with numbers of blacks voting for various Republican candidates in swing states during the 2014 midterm elections and increasing the Party’s number of blacks, while honestly acknowledging that it will take a lot more time to increase black participation in the GOP. During Chairman Priebus’ comments about increased percentages of blacks voting for GOP candidates, I thought about the various GOP inspired voter ID laws that make it more difficult for minorities to vote. Reconciling tough voter ID laws with wanting to increase black civic participation is an oxymoron.
The primary emphasis was on GOP trailblazers such as recently elected black officials in the Republican Party. Missing from the speeches was the policies and bills that the Republican Party intends to introduce that will make a difference to African Americans and people of color. Congresswoman Love made it a point to express that blacks need to remove themselves from dependency on people in power—presumably meaning the government. At the beginning of the RNC program, Veterans were asked to stand up while everyone applauded them. During Love’s remarks, I couldn’t but help think about some Veterans who are homeless, those Vets in need of medical care when Veterans Hospitals are over run with long waiting periods, those Veterans in need of job training who are unemployed and underemployed and how to reconcile the GOP’s position of not having the federal government help those individuals. There are segments of our society that need government assistance—whether Veterans, who have bravely served our country but suffer from PTSD and other physical, mental and emotional illnesses, unemployed Veterans, homeless Veterans, the working poor, those who are working 1-2 full time jobs and still can’t make ends meet, and unfortunately many others in our society.
And I wanted to hear how each of the honorees intends to make a difference in America and particularly to African Americans. I wanted to hear about the GOP’s game plan for moving our country forward, particularly African Americans. In other words, now that the Republicans control both Houses, I wanted to hear what the GOP intends to do with its newly earned leadership in Congress and the Senate. Black History Month is a time to discuss African Americans’ accomplishments, including the history of election of black Republicans. It is also a time to discuss the future and moving the country forward for African Americans. I wanted to hear how the Republican Party intends to move the country forward—and in particular the black electorate that it now is pursuing.
In contrast to the RNC Trailblazer luncheon, the White House and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (“ASALH”) event held in honor of Black History Month discussed detailed accomplishments by the Obama Administration in the areas of health care, criminal justice, education and women in making a difference in the lives of African Americans. The speakers were:
Putting the accomplishments in perspective, the speakers discussed past history and the specific changes that the Obama Administration has accomplished. From Affordable Health Care which has lowered the amount of uninsured African Americans and making health care more affordable to decreasing drug sentencing which unfairly sentenced blacks at higher rates, the White House event gave specific data as to how the lives of African Americans have improved under the Obama Administration.
With Republicans still trying to dismantle health care under the Affordable Care Act, waging battles against women under abortion laws and enacting strict voter ID laws which hinder many minorities from voting, Republicans need to reassess their actions, if they meaningfully desire to increase their ranks of black Republicans.