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Young Black Leadership Summit showcases an historic shift in conservative politics

Just steps from Capitol Hill, the crowd in the hotel ballroom grew anxious and the excitement palpable.  As a Bruno Mars’ song ricocheted off the ceiling, someone in the crowd broke the tension, “Do we have some Drake?” The room undulated with laughter.

The crowd sported MAGA hats, Trump t-shirts and jerseys. That is quite an unusual sight in my hometown of Washington, DC where intolerant leftists view a MAGA hat as an incitement to violence. You don’t see many people freethinking and brave enough to walk around DC with their loyalties on prominent display.

These young people happened to be black and proud to support President Trump, his Administration, and their conservative beliefs.  I asked those around me what brought them to DC from around the country to attend Turning Point USA’s Young Black Leadership Summit.

They were there, they said, to make new connections, meet longstanding online acquaintances, “better understand the awakening happening,” and hone their leadership skills.

From these willing young patriots, I learned three important things about the growing movement among Black Americans to depart from the Democratic Party, a phenomenon they call BLEXIT.

First, the Republican Party is still about INCLUSION.

President Trump addressed the Young Black Leadership Summit in the East Room of the White House, reminding them of his promise to be a “President for all Americans.”

He told the gathering, “your leadership shows that the party is growing.” The charge to “Make America Great Again’ is for all Americans, he said. “Each of you is a part of it.”  He offered resolve: “You embrace your own right to free thought and free speech,” a comment that brought wild applause and a nod to Kanye West.

You embrace your own right to free thought and free speech. —President Trump

These are sentiments the crowd took to heart.

Chris, from Atlanta, considers himself  “personally conservative, favoring classic liberalism and social conservatism.” He told me that he wanted to “explore the spectrum of conservative thought as it relates to the Black experience,” citing “a range of issues that don’t affect all Blacks in the same way.” Opportunities for economic versus social advancement can take different forms. Blacks, he said, need to be involved in the right as well so we have a diversity of ideas and not stagnate.”

Outside the White House, I spoke with thirty-five-year-old Benji Irby from the Bronx. Thrilled with the dialogue between the Trump Administration and conservatives in communities of color, he echoed Chris’ point about inclusion.  Benji is gay, writing a book called From the Ghetto to the GOP, and supported Bernie Sanders in his presidential nomination bid.

Benji explained his change from a pro-Bernie Democrat to Trump supporter.  For him, Sanders laid bare many of the flawed policies of the left.  Benji found appeal in Trump’s comments about putting America first and the need to address illegal immigration, outsourcing and WTO policies that may be harming Blacks.  In 2016, Benji saw that the charges of racism against Trump and the GOP were merely a ruse to hold on to power, and everything clicked for him.

Second, Blacks lean CONSERVATIVE.

YouTube personality AMERICAN CURLSS from Corpus Christie, Texas, has been conservative her whole life. She credited her mom for telling her children what she believed and why she believed it, explaining both sides of political issues in a balanced way.

Benji, from New York City, expressed the same view that most Blacks are conservative in their core beliefs.  When his support of Bernie drove him to question his fundamental principles, he knew that he supported free market capitalism and limited government.

What particularly resonated with him was Candidate Trump’s statement, “What do you have to lose?” This was a frequent refrain over the course of the summit, echoed by Don Trump Jr., President Trump, and the participants.  Indeed in nearly every measure — lowest unemployment levels for Blacks, Black women, and Black youth since the government began keeping track — Black communities have benefited from the policies promised and implemented by President Trump.

Benji also talked about immigration, a signature issue of President Trump’s campaign.

During the campaign, Benji was dating an illegal immigrant who used a fake Social Security Number. His family harvested strawberries in Northern California, and he personally attested to Benji that everything candidate Trump was saying was true.  In the primary process, his boyfriend was sure that Trump was going to ultimately win the presidency. He told Benji that Trump’s claims were not racist, but in fact they were reality.

Third, online media have allowed conservative ideas to reach Black communities directly.

I was pleased to meet Cecile Johnson, who billed herself as the “Cardi B of the Missouri GOP.” She grew up in a trailer park and then moved to the hood when she was ten. She works at a car dealership and maintains a business called Hood Conservatives to reach Blacks and minorities.  This was her first time visiting DC, and she was eager not to miss this historic gathering to connect with more young black conservatives.

Her goal is to continue to work to bring in more people to the party. Her move to the GOP began when she read an article in a national Black magazine in 2008 by a Black Republican.  Her reaction was, “Stop!” but she read it, and it made sense.  She went to Wikipedia and the websites of the political parties, and she weighed “they look like me” versus “they think like me.”  On principle she voted for John McCain, even though it was hard for her to vote against the first black President, whom she expected to win.

She sees this as a “special moment in time,” and she is inspired to see more Black people being more open minded and the Republicans making a more concerted effort to bring people together.  She knows the Black community is a key voting demographic, and she credits Trump’s 10-point New Deal that was released in Media Takeout.

One of her heroes, Condi Rice, famously said, “I’ve been black all my life. You don’t have to tell me how to be black. … the height of prejudice is to look at somebody and think you know what they think because of the color of their skin.”

As the music died down in the ballroom to allow Donald Trump, Jr., the chance to speak, the whole room was on the edge of their seats. The younger Trump told the young leaders, “You guys have the most guts of anyone in America.  It is not easy.”  Many have lost friends, angered family members, and suffered ostracism for the political stances.

Talking with these impressive young leaders, I know Don, Jr. was right. They have the most guts, and they are in the fight to win.

About the author

Gayle Trotter

Gayle Trotter is a columnist, political analyst and attorney who regularly appears on TV, such as Fox News Channel, contributes to The Hill, The Daily Caller, Townhall and other well-known political websites, and is a frequent guest on radio shows across the country providing an insider’s view of Washington, DC. Read More