The term “Chop It Up” is commonly known in our circles as catching up with someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time. In this political season, it’s taking on a new meaning: when young, Black men engage with each other in grassroots conversations.
The only rule is that these discussions must take place in spaces where Black men feel safe, uninhibited and allowed to express themselves in brothaspeak.
Fair Deal Grocery is the location of one such event. The corner store located on the east side of Charleston, South Carolina was founded in 1953 and serves as a community meeting space where a group of about 15 brothers gathered on Monday, February 24. Notably, a big screen television was showing the live broadcast of the Kobe and Gianna Bryant “Celebration of Life” memorial, two losses that left Black men in America emotionally reeling.
Ranging in age from millennials to Gen X, some of them have run for or are currently in the running for public office. Others are business owners or educators. All of them plan on voting in the South Carolina primary even though each man here says he has felt marginalized in the political equation of the last few years.
The discussion opens with a question posed by Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic political strategist and CBS News contributor who helped organize the event: “Why did 13 percent of Black male voters choose Donald Trump at the polls in 2016?” he asks. “What were the reasons those Black men made that choice?”
None of these men in the room this day voted for Trump in 2016, but pointed out a variety of causes behind the decisions of others to do so including political ignorance, Democrats ignoring Black men, Black male economic marginalization and Democratic failure to address it. There’s also the strategy that Trump spoke to those of a business mindset, the idea that support for Barack Obama not being transferrable to Hillary Clinton and, finally, no political support for Black men.
That last notion moved things in a particular direction because the men who had run for local public office as Democrats said they felt unsupported by the Democratic Party establishment and had nobody to mentor them on campaigning, organizing and fundraising.
“What I learned from running in 2016 is that there is no infrastructure for us,” said KJ Kearney, 36, who ran for the South Carolina state house and lost by only 5 percent. “But I learned there is an infrastructure that can be created for Black men like other groups.”
He supported Andrew Yang earlier because he liked his perspective on the environment, warnings about artificial intelligence and ideas about universal basic income, but after he dropped out, he voted early for Sen. Elizabeth Warren because he felt she’s been specific about addressing Black needs.
“Whites have a superpower we don’t have: they can be individuals and care about multiple things. We are a block and [politicians] think every issue with us can be addressed in one fell swoop,” explained Kearney. “So, there’s no civic engagement education, not enough people going to the homeless, the GED people and showing them what they can have. And Black men are not spelling out their issues enough.”
One of those issues that everyone in the room agreed doesn’t get enough attention is mental health and Black men. Poor mental conditions contribute to everything from violence to failed relationships to hindering ambitions, the men say.
“But the first thing is that we have to address it ourselves,” said Mauricus “Moe” Brown, 33, a former wide receiver at the University of South Carolina who is now running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s 5th District.
“We have to address how we regard each other, pull up the mirror. We have to learn how to love each other and be vulnerable and know that it’s a strength, not a weakness.”
Madison J. Gray is BET.com’s senior editor reporting from the ground in South Carolina.