By Kathrine Warren
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele plans a Denver visit on March 20, and members of the Colorado Black Republican Forum are eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to meet face-to-face with “the new face of the GOP.”
Members of the CBRF believe Steele’s election ushers in a new era for the Republican Party, demonstrating that Democrats don’t have a lock on the black vote.
“Immediately, when whites look at me, if they don’t know me, they think I’m a supporter of Obama because of the color of my skin. And I resent that,” said Richard Poole, who served as Denver metro area director for Republican U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard until Allard’s retirement after two terms earlier this year.
During his time with Allard, Poole was active in the Colorado Black Republican Forum, a group of about 20 that boosts Republican candidates by providing financial support and a forum for the discussion of issues important to black voters.
Poole noted that 2008 offered two major political events for black Americans: the election of the first black U.S. president, Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Steele’s election as the first black chairman of the GOP.
Steele said those developments suggest that Americans are becoming less apt to focus on race.
As both major parties look toward the future, Dawn Greenridge, president of the Colorado Black Republican Forum, hopes people will consider issues rather than skin color when they vote.
“What we’re doing right now is sort of regrouping and laying our foundation for the next couple of years,” she said. “We want to focus on being a forum to offer information on both sides with experts in different areas to present the issues on both sides at an intellectual level.”
The forum’s immediate goals include supporting local Republican candidates in 2010.
“We need to be able to show what the issues are and how they impact our daily lives,” Poole said.
Although Colorado’s black population is relatively small, and its population of black Republicans is even smaller, some CBRF members are counted among the state’s political players, including Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier and former Allard aide Poole.
Poole thinks it is important for the voices of both parties to be heard in the black community.
“If you look at this past election, every African-American voted on the basis of skin color and not the issues,” he lamented.
Although she disagrees with Obama’s ideology, however, Greenridge believes his election has been good for black political involvement.
“I’m hoping it will bring more active and positive people into politics and that people won’t say that they’re disenfranchised and they don’t have a voice,” she said.
Greenridge said the very existence of the CBRF disproves the notion that all blacks vote for Democrats.
“We sort of go against the grain. We are who we are,” she said.
Forum member Arniter Jamison said past members of the group were persecuted when people in the black community discovered they were Republicans.
“We’ve had personal attacks,” she said. “We’re not allowed to have free speech.”
She pointed out that black Republicans have had a very strong presence in the United States since Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Republicans and blacks have been intertwined down through the years,” she said.
Both Jamison and Greenridge emphasize the role of black Republicans in breaking the hold of racism on the solid Democratic South during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and noted that Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. all were Republicans.
“Black Republicans have been very active in the gains African-Americans have made,” Jamison said. “We don’t so much believe in equality as we do equity.”
Added Greenridge, “We’re all about personal responsibility, and we believe in free choice for education, personal rights.”
She has nothing but praise for Steele.
“He’s the best,” she said. “He’s approachable and has wonderful ideas. It’s time to put a new face on the party and reignite what the GOP is all about.”
Poole said he first noticed Steele when the RNC chairman-to-be was Maryland’s lieutenant governor.
“He did not portray himself as being a representative from the black community, but the total community that he served,” Poole said.
The subject of Steele’s Denver talk will be “Blueprint for Tomorrow: en-route to a Republican Revolution.”
Greenridge and the rest of the CRBF see that blueprint as a plan for victory in the 2010 elections.
“We really need to get out there and get our candidates ready and gear up for the next race and hopefully win back seats,” Greenridge said.
“I feel as though right now is the time for us, as Republicans, to stand up for our values and what we believe in and not become complacent,” she said.
Steele will speak at the Denver Marriott Friday, March 20, at an event sponsored by the Colorado Republican Committee entitled “Blueprint for Tomorrow: en-route to a Republican Revolution.” For more information,
go to www.cologop.org.