If you’re black, you aren’t supposed to be a conservative.
At least that’s what many African Americans say they’ve been told when they express support for President Donald Trump or reject left-wing talking points.
But at the recent Young Black Leadership Summit in the East Room of the White House, President Donald Trump gave more than 400 attendees a space to connect with like-minded peers and exchange battle stories about their experiences.
“Each of you has come to Washington for the Black Leadership Summit because you have what it takes to achieve real change on your campuses and in your communities,” Trump said in opening remarks at the Oct. 4 summit.
“And to every young person: You represent America’s future. You are the best and the brightest, the bravest and boldest.”
Organized by Turning Point USA, the second annual Young Black Leadership Summit aimed to build a groundswell of support for conservative ideas within black communities across America.
Hosting attendees from 16 to 37 years old, Turning Point USA sponsored several young leaders, paying for their transportation, lodging, and meals so that they would be able to attend.
The Daily Signal spoke with five young people who attended the summit about what it means to be black and a conservative and going against the current in a world obsessed with conformity.
‘We All Have One Mission’
For Charrise Lane, 20, the summit offered a chance to meet other conservatives and hear from speakers celebrating the role African Americans have played throughout U.S. history.
“The ideology of conservatism brings everyone together,” Lane, of Orlando, Florida, says. “We all have one mission: to have people start embracing being pro-America, and being pro-God, and being pro-family.”
In a world dominated by social media vitriol, meeting so many fellow conservatives at the White House is a breath of fresh air for student activists such as Lane.
She describes herself as part of a growing movement of black conservatives who are declaring their independence from liberal policies that historically depended on support from minority communities across the country.
With the Trump administration’s action on prison reform, abortion, urban revitalization, and the economy, Lane argues, the president is demonstrating his commitment to black Americans, despite attempts from opponents to label him a racist.
“A racist president would not invite young black leaders to the White House,” she says. “He didn’t even win with the black vote, but he’s still doing stuff for the black community.”
Events such as the Young Black Leadership Summit work to arm Lane and other young conservatives with tools to take back to their communities and use to implement conservative ideas.
And, encouraged by the unity and energy at the summit, that’s exactly what Lane says she plans to do.
“I want to be an attorney for a few years then go back home,” Lane says about what she hopes to do after she graduates college. “I want to run as a representative or something like that, because I want to give back to my community. I feel like coming from that type of community you need to go back and you need to do what’s right on behalf of your people.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Internet
A major tool for spreading conservative ideas to younger generations and minorities, of course, is social media.
“Traditionally, conservatives have not launched a big enough effort to be able to win over the black community,” says Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, who hopes to help change this by using the internet and modern messaging.
But for conservative social media influencers such as Shekinah Geist, 21, of Greeley, Colorado, advocating conservative ideas online can be a double-edged sword.
Geist says she initially was dismayed by the amount of backlash she received on social media because of her political beliefs. But her online activism also connected her to a community of like-minded individuals—not to mention the White House invitation she received because of her online presence.
“I love being a social media influencer,” Geist says. “I truly believe that social media is a great outlet for this next generation in getting them involved.”
Now, Geist partners with Turning Point USA as an ambassador, promoting the organization’s work while using the platform as a way to expand her online presence. Turning Point ambassadors include writers, speakers, and artists who spread the message of conservatism using modern media.
On online platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, Geist argues for Trump administration policies she says have been instrumental in helping minority communities in America. Among them: urban revitalization and opportunity zones that provide tax incentives for businesses in low-income neighborhoods.
“I think it’s really amazing that he’s putting together a team that knows what it’s like to live in these inner cities that have come directly out of poverty,” Geist says of Trump, adding that the administration is working to “target these areas that are being left behind.”
But for Geist, it isn’t all about race. She uses social media to share her values and core beliefs with others, hoping to form a digital community founded on traditional principles.
“I was never raised to see racism as a major threat in my life,” Geist says. “I was always raised to never be a victim of my circumstances.”
“This country gives you opportunities if you’re willing to work hard,” she adds.
The Real Racism
It’s no secret that African Americans get plenty of backlash for supporting conservative policies, and many of the speakers at the Young Black Leadership Summit talked about how to deal with attacks from the left.
One attendee who wasn’t afraid to hit back against attempts to generalize all African Americans as monolithic liberals was public speaker and social media influencer Kingface—a stage name he adopted for his advocacy work and public outreach.
“Liberals are literally being racist to our face blatantly,” Kingface says. “I’m supposed to think the way you think I’m supposed to think because of the color of my skin? Are you serious?”
“Racism has been exposed through Trump being president,” he adds. “He’s exposed the real racism.”
A New York City resident, Kingface, 37, is clear that his race comes second to his patriotism and stresses the importance of free thinking in politics. He cites gun regulations and the prevalence of abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods as reasons to push back against left-wing policies.
He says he has received his fair share of hatred for his political beliefs, but argues that it’s all part of the process to win over hearts and minds and expose the truth.
“When you go through things you’re not being punished, you’re being prepared,” Kingface says. “I’m not a political genius. The only thing I know is the truth and that’s Donald Trump.”
“And that’s the bottom line.”
‘It Felt Like a God Moment’
When asked what was the best part of the Young Black Leadership Summit, many attendees cite the moment a young Ethiopian woman offered an impromptu prayer for Trump and the conservative movement in America.
“I’m a very shy person, such an introvert,” Mahalet Krause Skibinski, 21, says. “I never imagined myself being on the stage at all.”
Born in Ethiopia and adopted when she was 11, Krause Skibinski now lives in Valparaiso, Indiana. She tells how she felt jittery on her way to the White House for the summit. Toward the end of the event, she surprised even herself by asking fellow conservatives to pray.
When Trump heard her from the audience, he helped her onstage.
Krause Skibinski then led the room in a prayer in which she thanked God for the blessings of America and called for faith to be brought back into the public square.
“It was such an awkward thing. I felt so unprofessional because that’s such a professional stage and you don’t go up there to do a silly prayer, but it really was something from the heart,” she says. “It felt like a God moment.”
Mahalet was born in Ethiopia.— Benny (@bennyjohnson) October 5, 2019
Abandoned by her parents, she lived as an impoverished orphan.
Mahalet was adopted by a loving, Christian American family at 11.
This week @TPUSA brought her to the WH. She asked to pray for our President. He brought her onstage-then this happened: pic.twitter.com/kYoUT365Rq
Krause Skibinski talks about her struggles as a child in Ethiopia, an experience she says helps her appreciate American values.
“Coming from such a horrible background, being an orphan and having a broken family—also a hard-working family—I just really respect this place,” she says. “I am privileged just being in America.”
Krause Skibinski goes on to warn that many Americans have become blind to the presence of evil in the world, highlighting the importance of integrating faith back into politics.
“For me, it’s all about God and bringing God into the conversation within this country,” she says. “I believe that we are going to have a revival.”
Thinking More Deeply
Jamarcus Dove-Simmons, 17, a high school student from Spartanburg, South Carolina, explains how difficult it can be to have an open mind as a young adult when your friends and family disagree with your beliefs.
According to the prevailing narrative, if you’re black, you must be Democrat.
“I grew up in a heavily Democratic household,” Dove-Simmons says. “At the end of seventh grade, that narrative started to fall apart in my life.”
After checking off “Democrat” for a class assignment about which political party students align with, a teacher challenged Dove-Simmons to explain his decision.
“I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m black, so I’m a Democrat,’” he recalls.
He went home that night and researched American history and the two-party system, and was surprised to find that he had strong conservative inclinations.
As the 2016 election approached, Dove-Simmons found himself increasingly drawn to Trump’s connection with everyday people.
“It made me feel a sense of hope and belonging,” Dove-Simmons says about meeting other young conservatives at a White House event during Black History Month. “After I left the White House, I got in the car and I said, ‘Mom, I’m not the only one.’”
Dove-Simmons says many false narratives are fed to black communities in America, including misinformation about law enforcement.
“I don’t jump the gun and say the cop was racially profiling them; I like to dig deeper into the story,” he says about recent cases of police shootings of black men.
But no matter the issue, Dove-Simmons says, he plans to “preach the truth about conservatism” long after Trump leaves office.
For all this talk about conservatism within the black community, one thing remains clear: It’s impossible to generalize. Individuals bring their own perspectives to bear on these values, defining them along unique personal lines.
There’s a reason why the #Blexit movement—the “black exit” from the Democratic Party of African Americans who reject leftist groupthink—has been gaining traction.
No group of people should be treated as an electoral statistic, summit attendees agree, and by embracing conservative values, many find individual freedom coupled with a strong sense of unity.
“The message of freedom and liberty is one that all communities should be hearing,” Turning Point USA’s Kirk says, arguing that black neighborhoods across America have been “sorely disaffected by these lefist policies of big government, failing public schools, dangerous streets, the war on cops, and fatherlessness.”
And if you ask these outspoken young leaders, they’ll tell you that the election of Donald Trump was just the first step toward improving the lives of those back home.
“I keep coming across people from all across this country that believe in the same thing that I do,” Krause Skibinski says.
“God has a rescue plan for us from all this mess.”