The Republican National Committee on Wednesday hosted its 3rd Annual Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon at the historic Howard Theatre — a venue graced by legendary black luminaries and performers such as Booker T. Washington, Duke Ellington and Drake.
The RNC calls the luncheon “an event that celebrates Black History Month by honoring black Republicans who have blazed a path for future leaders.” This year’s honorees were Utah Rep. Mia Love, Texas Rep. Will Hurd, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and posthumously, former Republican Sen. Edward Brooke III of Massachusetts who died earlier this year at the age of 95. The atmosphere was loose and jovial after Patrick Lundy and the Ministry of Music led the audience in a stirring rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Black National Anthem)” — all three verses, even the two that no one can ever seem to remember. Roland Martin, host and managing editor of TVOne’s daily morning show, "NewsOne Now," co-hosted the event along with CNN political commentator and Blaze TV contributor Tara Setmayer Love.
The two emcees displayed an easy rapport but it was Martin who clearly seemed to thrive on playing to the crowd, telling Rev. Ralph Gilliam before the minister led the room in prayer, “Look, we all know God, we all know Jesus, so I need you to make this quick.”
“It’s good to know Roland goes to church once in a while to know how long preachers can talk,” Gilliam shot back.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus used the occasion to boast about inroads the Republican Party has made to the black community during his time as chair and reiterate his pledge of growing the party.
“Not only is our delegation to Congress more diverse, but we also saw increased support nationally among black voters,” Priebus said during his prepared remarks. “My commitment to you as chairman is to continue building a bigger, stronger, more inclusive Republican Party. Not because it’s good for our party, but because it’s good for our country.”
Hurd was the first honoree to take the stage, teasing Martin — his fellow Texas A&M alum — and telling the crowd why he’s proud to be a Republican.
“A lot of people don’t know we went to the same alma mater. I want to know, did you wear that ascot when you were in College Station?” Hurd asked Martin before turning more serious. “The Republican Party is willing to help people no matter where they live or what they’re doing. It’s about the Republican Party creating opportunity for all. It’s exciting for me to be here in Washington, D.C., fighting on behalf of those principles.”
Love evoked the Civil Rights movement during her speech, thanking people who marched and were thrown in jail to make her success possible. She also preached a need for self-reliance by evoking slavery. “We need to remove ourselves from a different kind of slavery,” Love said. “And what I’m talking about is the slavery that comes from being dependent on people in power.”
Brad Thomas, a black 33-year-old former Republican operative from Norfolk, Va., said he was glad to be at the luncheon and was most looking forward to hearing Sen. Tim Scott, the first African-American senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.
“If you look at his history, it’s the American Dream,” Thomas said. “Mr. Scott will tell you he had it rough growing up. He came from less fortunate circumstances but he had a mom who cared. He had some difficulties and he overcame them and he’s a United States senator. And no matter your party, being an African-American senator is a big deal. There are only two of them.”
Scott started his remarks by marveling at the unlikelihood of his success given his inauspicious beginnings as a young man. He told the audience he believes he is the only congressman to ever flunk high school civics. But Scott credited the diligence of his grandfather and conservatives principles for turning his life around.
Scott closed by encouraging Republicans to reach out to people with more diverse backgrounds. “We win the battle of ideas when we are willing to leave our comfort zones, entering the places where we rarely have been and spend some quality time understanding the potential of neighborhoods like [the one] I grew up in.”
It’s one thing to reach out to black voters with an uplifting message of freedom, hard work and self-reliance, but it becomes much more difficult when part of that messaging involves drawing sharp contrasts with the Democratic Party — a party led by a black president who enjoys 9-to-1 support within the black community.
“It’s our duty to point out problems when they persist but also offer solutions,” said Orlando Watson, RNC communications director for black media. “What you’re seeing from the Republican Party is exactly that. That’s why we were successful in the midterm elections. We have work to do and we’re going to keep at it. We stand for advancing and pushing policies that keep more money in people’s pockets, put food on the table for them and expand access to quality education for children.”
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