This is an edited transcript of a conversation between Antonia Okafor and Katrina Trinko on the May 22 edition of The Daily Signal podcast. Okafor weighed in on her own journey to becoming a conservative, Kanye West, gun rights, and school safety. 

Katrina Trinko: Joining us today is Antonia Okafor, a political commentator and the CEO of EmPOWERed, an organization devoted to the Second Amendment rights of women on college campuses. Antonia, thanks for joining us today.

Antonia Okafor: Thanks for having me, Katrina.

Trinko: First question. You yourself voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012.

Okafor: Yes.

Trinko: Why did you vote for him and what since then has changed your mind on political matters?

Okafor:  I grew up in a pretty traditional Democratic family. I remember when I was young my mom telling me that, ‘If you could vote right now, you would vote for Bill Clinton.’ I remember that.

I just thought I was a Democrat growing up and then I went to college and realized … I was actually taking public policy courses and realizing … [that the policies] for the Democratic Party, I didn’t actually believe in.

Doing a lot more research and realizing that, you know what, my values that I grew up with that actually, coincidentally, and ironically [the values] my mother taught me—working very hard, education is an equalizer for everyone, that traditional family and the nuclear family is important to success, and having a faith in Jesus Christ is important to success as well—and just those traditional values really made me realize that I was in a party that did not reconcile with my values and I needed to change, particularly with the pro-life issue, but then later on, the pro-gun issue.

The only party that I believe that was really always consistently focused on those issues was the Republican Party.

After 2012, I’m [remembering] … voting for Barack Obama, even though I did have a hard time at that even doing that, but realizing that I will never vote again against my values and I would not vote for the Democratic Party because they weren’t doing what was important in that instance for my values.

Trinko: I think your story is particularly interesting because so many people go to college and actually come out liberal, or come out more liberal. This is sort of a personal question, but I’d just be curious: Why do you think you were open to changing? Why was your experience so different than so many other college students?

Okafor: You know what? I think I was open because kind of like what’s going on right now, [although] I think it’s to a worse degree because everybody’s so anti-Trump. It’s because the media’s so focused on making Republicans look like racists, and sexists, and misogynists, and horrible people.

Then me, I guess, I just have this affinity to be around people, or to seek out information for myself. I remember I was like, OK, if they’re really this bad I want to see for myself. Going out and talking to people who were Republicans and finding out that they weren’t bad people, in fact, they were amazing people and they actually share the same values. I mean, who would’ve thunk it that if you did your actual research, that you would find a lot of what people were saying is false.

That’s what happened to me, and so a lot of questions ensued after that of what else I was just believing without actually doing my research and homework on.

I came to find out that there were a lot of things that I didn’t believe that mainstream media for a long time was telling me that I should. It was them saying that you must be a certain way as a black woman, you must think this certain way or you’re not a black woman that made me actually, ‘You know what, I want to do my research and find out why they’re saying this.’

Come to find out, that’s exactly the opposite.

I think that’s what really spurred me onto being more open to finding out what my actual beliefs were and if I believe what they believe.

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Trinko: OK. Well, that’s interesting because that relates to, of course, Kanye West, [who] had a huge backlash when he didn’t even really say he supported Trump, just said maybe not everything conservatives say is the spawn of Satan, essentially. What did you think about the backlash? Are we in a unique moment here? What’s going on?

Okafor: Well, two things. Even with Kanye West, I think actually I’m more saddened about what Chance the Rapper said and the backlash that he got right after that. Actually, he had apologized when he said that not all black people have to vote for Democrats. He apologized after that.

I was like, what are you apologizing for? I mean, statistically that’s true but unfortunately with, I think, African-Americans … the media, mostly the left, has been able to monopolize the conversation and narrative when it comes to that, [making it] … that you’re black and these people are white and therefore, if you’re a black person, you should vote for the Democratic Party.

Only white people are for gun rights, only white people are Republican, are conservatives. They’ve done a great job of doing that for so long but, no, because you’re a black person does not mean that you have to vote for the Democratic Party. If anything, when I found out that 95 percent of African-Americans voted for Barack Obama and then 88 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton, that’s more than any other demographic group and it’s an overwhelming proportion more as well. I mean, Latinos, they voted 66 percent for Hillary Clinton.

I think, for a long time the left has used this narrative that as a black person particularly … you are supposed to vote a certain way.

I think a lot of people like Kanye, and Chance the Rapper, if they apologize or not, are starting to realize that maybe I don’t vote for Republicans, maybe I’m not a conservative. That’s what Kanye said—he said, I don’t really know if I would label myself as a conservative, but I think a different way.

We’ll see what he says, but I think it’s good that we’re having a conversation anyway, to say that you as a person are independent and you can think independently and make up your own decisions regardless of your race or your gender.

I think people are sick and tired of people putting them in boxes. I know I was sick and tired of it.

Trinko: Well, one of the criticisms of conservatives over the years has been they don’t really show up to a lot of minority events. Sen. Rand Paul [R-Ky.], when he was running for president, made a big deal of [it]: ‘I’m actually going to go to African-American neighborhoods, I’m going to speak, I’m going to be involved.’ What do you think conservatives should be doing to reach out to African-Americans?

Okafor: You know what? I’m a testament that that worked, because I remember seeing him when I was afraid of—

Trinko: Oh, Paul?

Okafor: Yeah, of seeing that he was going out to Howard [University in Washington, D.C.], he was going out to these HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] and … still talking about conservative values.

I hadn’t seen that before, I hadn’t seen politicians on our side who had these values that would go out and talk to people, but not also pander to them and change their values because they’re in a different area.

I remember looking at Rand Paul and him being so focused and so true to his beliefs and his principles, and not budging on those. But the fact that he was even there in the first place just went to show that, yeah, these values are for everyone.

It made me realize that I could be conservative—come out of the closet—and champion these values. Also, still be a black person, still advocate for the fact that I’m very pro-criminal justice reform, and prison reform, and I’m so glad that now we’re seeing that with Trump looking into that, and people coming to a consensus.

It’s a lot of things that we can come to an agreement with and come together in but unfortunately, especially the other side I think sees that and sees that if they don’t make it a partisan issue then they could lose people.

They could have people like me five years later going from voting for Obama to voting for President Trump. That’s scary to them.

Trinko: Well, to switch gears a little bit, you’ve mentioned your support for gun rights. There was, unfortunately, another tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. You’re a Texan yourself. What do you think the response should be? How do you think we should handle all these calls from the left for gun control [being] the answer?

Okafor: Part of it is that, unfortunately, they always get to dictate when we get to talk about the whole issue, after [the shooting]. You know, every time we have a tragedy, to be honest, now it’s like [comedian] Chelsea Handler says something, that’s when it starts the conversation on Twitter, unfortunately.

Trinko: Oh, Twitter.

Okafor: She’s the precursor of when gun control and gun rights conversation [happens]. It’s a sad society, but it’s true. They get to dictate when it’s appropriate to start talking about that, and we respond.

We shouldn’t respond anymore, we should be on the forefront, we should be leading the conversation.

That’s why I started my organization, Empower, because I knew as a gun rights activist, as someone who was part of the organization that brought campus carry to Texas in 2015, we are really … The movement is going to be pushed by young women.

I found that as a young woman that self-defense is important to us, particularly on college campuses. With the … gun control narrative, they don’t want people to see that. They don’t want to say that the strong, empowered woman, the college-educated woman [who] knows other strong, empowered, college-educated women who also happen to be pro-gun.

They want the narrative to be: If you’re a feminist, if you’re pro-female, then you can’t be pro-gun. That’s false. If anything, if you’re pro-female, you should be pro-gun, it’s one of the best equalizers that we have in this great country.

It’s horrific and we do need to do something about it. If anyone, especially my generation … [having] grown up in Columbine [era], grown up with both Virginia Techs and all these shootings on college campuses and high school campuses …

We don’t believe in [gun control] anymore and we want something different. This is our time to put out something different and to say that it’s not about the gun, it’s about the person behind the firearm that we should be focusing on.

Trinko: I certainly share your frustration that feminism always seems to box out conservative women, whether it’s abortion, or gun rights. No matter what, if you’re not right thinking, oh, suddenly you don’t care about women, which drives me insane.

Okafor: That New York Times article.

Trinko: Oh my gosh.

Okafor: They just had saying that the myth of conservative [feminism]—

Trinko: They were saying [conservatives] can’t appropriate feminism …

Okafor: I was like, thank you. First of all, the first feminists are the ones who were pro-life, so if anything, we could say ‘the myth of liberal feminism’ … I’m not going to say that because feminism is not dictated by liberal, or progressive, or being conservative. It’s about equality between the sexes. Absolutely, I believe it’s a big 10 issue when it comes to that.

Empowering women can look like, you can be empowered as a woman and believe that you have a right to defend yourself with a firearm just as much as you can be empowered if you don’t want that. I mean, just as long as you’re not impeding on other people’s rights, I think that’s what it comes down to. That’s really the equality of rights.

Trinko: What is the response to your group then on college campuses? As I mentioned, I don’t think historically or traditionally people tend to think of college women as gun carriers or advocates of gun rights.

Okafor: Yeah, well, it was because of my time as an advocate for campus carry and realizing that’s who the anti-gun side was always focusing on … women on college campuses, and making it seem like they were the ones who should not have guns. They were the ones who should not have any, or be advocates of anybody having firearms at all, and being very frustrated in the fact that, no, that’s exactly the opposite.

I wanted those pro-gun women to have a voice because I knew they were out there, I’d talked to them, I’d spoken to even professors who definitely don’t feel like they have a voice if they’re pro-gun on campuses. They would email me all the time during my time with students for conceal carry saying, ‘I completely support what you’re doing, I just cannot say anything or I would never get tenure.’

Trinko: Oh gosh, that’s so frustrating.

Okafor: Yeah, exactly. I was just like, you know what, they’re out there. People don’t want them to have a voice, but I can give them a voice, I have a platform, let me do so. I think that was my opportunity and so I’ve been grateful the last year that people actually believe the same thing too, I thought it was just me being crazy, but it’s not.

There are a lot of people who are just afraid to say something. The same thing with March for Our Lives and these high school students telling me that they’re afraid to say things too because their peers and their administrators are telling them the opposite, [that] if they believe anything other than being anti-gun, then they’re awful people, and that’s just not true. We need people to stand up for them because they’re afraid to stand up for themselves.

Trinko: And that’s such an important point. I often think, how different would our politics be if everyone was able to speak about what they truly believed?

Okafor: Yeah.

Trinko: I do realize, not everyone gets to work at a conservative outlet where you’re OK with that. There’s a lot of societal pressure, but I’ve definitely experienced the same phenomenon where people will say to you quietly, or behind closed doors, ‘I agree.’ It’s like, OK, well say that out loud.

Okafor: I’ve had people who agree with me after lectures. There’s a few African-American women that came up to me after my Dartmouth lecture just a couple weeks ago. I was like, ‘Can I take a picture with you?’ They’re like, ‘You had really good points.’ [And then] they’re like, ‘Is this going to be on social media?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you don’t want it.’ [They said], ‘Yeah, let’s not do it.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, OK. Well, I understand.’

It’s sad that they feel like they can’t outwardly agree with me because then they’ll be a traitor to their race and their gender.

Trinko: Well, someday.

Okafor: Yeah, someday.

Trinko: I’m sure you’re inspiring a lot of people … thank you so much for joining us today, Antonia.

Okafor: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.