Shermichael Singleton at a Romney campaign event. (Photo: Courtesy of Andres Lazarte)
Editor's note: This is the second installment of a two-part feature on young African-American conservatives. Part 1 can be found here.
Morehouse men, so the saying goes, are marked by "an air of expectation." The expression also describes how Shermichael Singleton, in the months leading up to his matriculation at the prestigious institution, felt about Barack Obama's first bid for the White House.
Don't get it twisted. Singleton, then a high school senior, was totally down with the GOP and a founding member of the Teenage Republican Society. But, he says, "I'll be honest, when Obama announced his candidacy, I was ecstatic."
So much so that when he learned that Democratic senator was making a campaign stop in his native Dallas, Singleton went over his principal's head to seek permission from the school superintendent to attend the event. He didn't agree with Obama on most issues, but believed him to be the first African-American to have a legitimate chance of winning the presidency and wanted to bear witness to a benchmark of a potentially historic milestone.
"It was a great experience. I applauded his speech and him for running. But I've been extremely disappointed," the political consultant says.
The first African-American to achieve such great political heights has not, in his view, lived up to the air of expectation.
While at Morehouse, Singleton was instrumental in helping the institution charter its first College Republicans group. But it wasn't easy. Administrators and other older African-Americans were opposed to the effort, arguing that the GOP did not care about policies that were important to Blacks and people of color in general.
In fact, he got more support on campus from the thriving Young Democrats chapter with whom he debated politics and co-hosted events.
"They'd say, 'Singleton, we think you're crazy as hell, but brother, we support you and we're glad that you're standing for what you truly believe in,'" he said.
Chelsi P. Henry, who is deeply involved in Florida Republican politics, believes that there are more African-American Republicans than meet the eye.
"I learned that being involved with the local Republican Party and was president of the Minority Republican Club for two years in Jacksonville," she said. "I think the bigger question is why there aren't more vocal Black Republicans."
The party, Henry adds, echoing the sentiments of several African-American conservatives, needs to do a much better job of communicating its message. She also thinks that the party should reach out to minorities at a much earlier age. When she was approaching her 18th birthday, Henry recalls, she didn't have to search for the Democratic message.
"We have to become as effective as the Democratic Party so that 18-year-olds truly make a choice rather than having the choice made for them," she said.
Until then, the stigma of being a Black Republican still remains, particularly in the South. When Singleton, who worked for Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign, talks to friends of different ethnicities and even nationalities, they consistently question his allegiance to a party that doesn't have people of color in key leadership roles or appear to offer a path of upward mobility for minorities.
They also are suspicious about the GOP's current mission to expand the base: Is the party legitimately interested in outreach or talking about it because it lost the 2012 presidential election?
"That's really upsetting to hear many of my friends and peers say that. Sometimes I can't argue and say they're wrong because I know personally that sometimes they're right," he said.
So, why stay?
"I don't believe in giving up. The only way you can make a change and a difference in any arena is to continue to fight and strive for differences to be made. I and other African-American Republicans could say, "You know what, screw this party, I'm going to become a conservative Democrat,' and that would be the easy way," Singleton said. "Staying in [the GOP] isn't always easy; sometimes it's lonely, sometimes it sucks when you go to meetings and there's no one there who looks like you or shares cultural similarities."
He believes that by sticking it out, he can slowly but surely make progress, paving the way for other African-Americans who may rise up the Republican ranks a lot faster because of his and other Black conservatives' efforts.
"I hope to make a difference," Singleton said. "Nothing's guaranteed, but I will one day have the satisfaction of saying I tried the very best I could to change the perception of what I think is a great political party."
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