ATLANTA — President Donald Trump is calling on black conservative voters to rally behind him, and Georgia residents who fit the bill are eager to answer.
On Friday, Trump is set to launch his "Black Voices for Trump," a coalition dedicated to recruiting Black Americans to support his campaign for reelection in 2020. The initiative will make its first stop at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.
While a study shows that only about 8% of black voters identify as Republicans, Kaaryn Walker is no stranger to push-back because of her conservative views as a black voter. Recently, Walker, the founder of Black Conservatives for Truth, received a call from an angry man calling her a “traitor to her race.”
Before the 2016 election, black conservatives in Georgia were in hiding, she said, for this exact reason.
“It is very difficult as a black Republican to share certain beliefs without having a lot of push-back,” Walker said. “These are people you’ve know all your life, these are your family members, your friends, your church members, your classmates.”
A surge of Republican pride after Trump was elected prompted Walker to create the group as a “safe space” for black conservatives to share their political beliefs. Black Conservatives for Truth has grown from a small Facebook page to a coalition of thousands.
But swaying black voters to realign with the conservative party isn’t easy.
Walker grew up in an “unspoken” Democratic household but realized as a young adult that she aligned with conservative values after looking more deeply at policies being pushed on both sides of the aisle.
“I realized how I vote did not align with my belief system, and that is when I made the decision from then on to vote Republican...” she said. “When I look and see all the issues that minority communities face it can all be connected back largely to some type of policy that is attached to it.”
Walker’s father was a college student at South Carolina State when he was shot while protesting a segregated bowling alley. Out of 11 shots, three bullets hit him, causing serious injury. His roommate was killed.
The incident, Walker said, didn’t shape her political views — maybe because the incident wasn’t brought up much within her family.
“That did not shape how I view racial interactions, racism, that had nothing to do with my views," she said.
Walker said that too many voters are caught up in emotional politics and how a candidate makes them “feel” one way or another.
“I choose to look at how in spite of feelings, how are we impacted with certain legislation,” Walker said. “I am more interested in my ability to progress on a social and economic level, that is what I don’t want blocked.”
That’s exactly how Walker looks to sway black voters.
“I don’t push party, I push issues...” Walker said. “You move the goal not by talking about the Republican Party, but the greatness of Republican policy.”
“One of the complaints or issues I hear minorities talk about against the Republican Party is they feel alienated...” she said. “That the Republican party doesn’t care about black people. That there are a lot of racists, they are not interested in hearing about what black people are concerned about.”
Ben Orkeke, 27, uses the same tactic with young voters — presenting issue sides without partisan labels. Orkeke is the president of Turning Point USA at Georgia State University — a conservative nonprofit organization that promotes limited government.
“When you actually present both sides of the issue to them,” he told CNHI, “people tell you, Republican views make more sense but I can’t be a Republican, I have to be a Democrat.”
Orkeke immigrated to America when he was 14 years old from Cameroon but in October of this year, he found himself at the White House, standing next to President Trump.
At Turning Point USA’s 2019 Young Black Leadership Summit, Orkeke thanked the president for everything he has “done for the African American community so far.”
The immigrant and veteran — after serving in the U.S. Army for four years before returning to college — doesn’t let backlash change his political views.
While promoting their club at school, he said, their group faced screams from other angry students.
“We don’t let it get to us, people are going to scream and rave and rant and sometimes you have to let them do it,” Orkeke said.
Don’t let people bully you, he said.
“People as kids won’t speak their mind because they think they’ll lose friends if they’re affiliated with a certain group...” Orkeke said. “That’s one of the things we try to tell them, is to be brave and actually say what they believe in. Think for themselves.”