‘African-American citizens have given so much to this country. They’ve fought in every war since the Revolution, and they’ve fought hard. They’ve lifted up the conscience of our nation in the march toward civil rights, enriched the soul of America — and their faith and courage. And they’ve advanced our country in the fields of science, arts and medicine,” President Donald Trump said in welcoming members of the Congressional Black Caucus to a March 22 meeting at the White House.
But can the man who pointedly asked during the 2016 campaign what African-Americans have to lose by supporting him match his words with action?
Can Trump be the Republican president who delivers for the black community?
Some black members of the Republican Party in Metro Detroit think so. But first they believe the president has to move beyond symbolic gestures and offer some serious solutions to the myriad issues facing black America.
“The best approach President Trump could do to connect with the black community is to start with adding diversity to his own cabinet with credible appointments,” said Brandon Brice, a political consultant who contributes to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Dr. Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development secretary, is the only African-American in Trump’s cabinet, which compared to past administrations is a stunning and significant lack of representation.
Price wants Trump to use the Small Business Administration as a direct pipeline to the black community.
“The president must use federal offices like the Small Business Administration as a vessel to work with African-American-based organizations, churches and economic development corporations,” Brice said. “Trump may even consider a summer listening tour with the top 50 black business leaders in cities like Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Baltimore to develop a strategy to rebuild small business in those neighborhoods.”
Brice also said education should top the agenda.
“Education reform is very important when changing the urban outcomes of cities and residents. But the conversation shouldn’t be charters versus public education. The conversation should be how do we offer the best option for parents in poor districts and fix public education for those families who don’t have the financial means,” Brice said.
“Charters are great options but public education deals with the realities that children encounter such as public safety and poverty, so fixing public education is critical if we want real change in social outcomes of our urban cities.”
Henry Hatter, an engineer who with his daughter Kelly Mitchell received wide reviews last year for being the only father-daughter duo in Michigan to cast electoral votes for Trump in December, said the president should be direct in his dealings with blacks.
“Trump’s engagement with black people should be candid, open, truthful and honest and should never leave a hint of patronizing,” Hatter said.
Hatter said Trump can make a difference in urban cities like Detroit and Flint by creating “a platform that drives black Americans to strive to become self-sufficient by directing adequate, reliable and renewable resources.”
“We do not have to be bathed in the wealth of a George Soros or Donald Trump to live a good life in the country of our birth. We as a culture need only to believe this struggle is our birthright, to strive for and compete with or against others on a level playing field which is the challenge of all Americans contrary to the barriers placed by our critics,” Hatter said.
“Given equal opportunity on a level playing field at a minimum, black Americans will figure out for themselves without generational governmental dependence and charity.”
Terry Johnson, a lawyer who lives in Oakland County, said blacks want the same thing every other group is seeking — jobs and opportunities.
“(Trump’s) engagement with the community should be no different than any other group. Bring jobs and opportunities back to the community. Go visit, listen and start real dialogue,” Johnson said.
On the heels of Trump’s meeting with the black caucus, members of the group remain optimistic about a productive relationship between the administration and the CBC, said U.S. Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana.
“We never thought we’d agree on everything in this meeting but the one thing we did ask is for both sides to be candid. He listened and we talked, and we proposed a lot of solutions, many of which I think he had not heard before and we’re going to keep advocating,” Richmond told the news media afterward.
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, who attended the White House meeting, said it was an opportunity for the caucus to address the president on issues ranging from education to criminal justice reform.
She said after the meeting Trump expressed interest in continuing the dialogue with periodic conversations on issues facing black voters.
For the president to be credible in the black community he will need to fulfill his campaign promises of improving the socioeconomic conditions in urban cities like Detroit and other places that he said have been the result of decades of Democratic control.
Trump has to give blacks a reason to believe that his “Make America Great Again” campaign also includes helping blacks recover from the economic doldrums affecting poor whites.
Even though many in the African-American community saw his campaign as appealing to the worst instincts of voters who were legitimately concerned about their own well-being, it is not too late for the president to offer a significant olive branch to blacks by beginning to repair the damage in the first hundred days of his administration.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.