As we come to the end of Black History Month there is one question to be asked, what did we learn? In 1976, Republican President, Gerald R. Ford became the first American President to formally recognize “National Black History Month,” starting a White House tradition of honoring what he called “the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
As we all learn more about Black History, and historical figures we should also learn about what is being done today, and that is exactly what the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) did last week at their Black American policy summit entitled “Advancing the American Dream.” As one of their Ambassadors, I was proud to see them host what I hope becomes an annual policy event. Rather than the standard social media graphic, cocktail reception, luncheon, or dinner, they chose to honor Black History Month with a substantive day-long policy conference in Washington D.C.
AFPI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan research policy-focused think tank that seeks to advance policies that put the American people first. Inspired by the works of Dr. King and other great Americans their American Dream coalition’s agenda includes policy ideas “for laying the foundation for all citizens to achieve the American Dream. Policy ideas that will uplift forgotten communities, protect the sanctity of life, prioritize parental school choice and education opportunities, create capital inflow through opportunity zones, and preserve family unification are a major part of this Agenda.” Those policy issues are centered around prosperity, education, freedom, and fatherhood.
Black American leaders like Ambassador Ken Blackwell, Dr. Alveda King, Scott Turner, Jack Brewer, and Gail Wilson work there under the leadership of former White House Domestic Policy Director Brooke Rollins.
Our celebration of Black History should also include the legislative victories that came about because of our Black leaders of the time, and everyday Americans who were engaged civically, enacting the policy changes needed to put us on the path to realize Dr. King’s dream in a more tangible way.
The summit panel discussions focused on: addressing the fatherlessness crisis, the legacy of the civil rights movement, advancing the American Dream through legislation, and a conversation with former professional athletes committed to giving back and highlighting the importance of second chances and criminal justice reform.
During the fatherlessness crisis panel, important information was shared about where we are as a nation on this issue. Approximately one and four American children (nearly 24 million) live without a father in the home. Children without fathers in the home are nine times more likely to drop out of high school and six times more likely to live in poverty and commit criminal acts than children raised in dual-parent homes. Let me be clear, this does not mean that if you are a single mother your child will automatically end up in one of these statistics. There are countless examples of how children from fatherless homes have achieved great things and grown up to be amazing parents. However, the facts are the facts. AFPI’s leaders like Jack Brewer are creating and highlighting and educating policy positions at the state level to address this issue head-on via their Center for Opportunity Now. In fact, last year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, signed a $70 million bill to support initiatives to promote fatherhood.
When you think about Black History and Civil Rights the media ignores Black Republicans like Clarence Henderson from North Carolina at the Woolworths sit-in, Ambassador Ken Blackwell, a member of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Secretary Alphonso Jackson who marched and was injured on Bloody Sunday walking on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and two presenters at the AFPI summit, Dr. Alveda King (niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Wanda Evers (niece of Medgar Evers). These two women came together to share some of their stories and talk about how there is a need for action in states like Mississippi, to address some of the many challenges Black families are facing, and how the impact of Civil Rights engagement has not died, but continues.
Policies like the First Step Act and the issue of criminal justice reform are important topics where we can come together and unite to push for more change and improvement in states like North Carolina. Hearing athletes like Duke Tanner and Frank Murphy (members of the AFPI athletes for American coalition), talk about ways we can address recidivism, opportunities for the formerly imprisoned, and how smart policy like criminal justice reform can literally change lives and bring hope and healing to restore families and communities was emotional and transformative.
The keynote speaker featured panelist, and the only elected official present was North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson. When we look back historically, most of the change we saw began in the states, activism and engagement and the fight for justice was done at the grassroots level that matriculated up to the federal level both in the legislatures and in the courts.
Lt. Governor Robinson shared his personal story of living the American Dream because of the work ethic, faith, and discipline of his parents, namely his mother who worked at North Carolina A&T as a custodian. She was able to provide her family off that salary in the 1970’s because she was fiscally conservative and lived within her means. He connected that to how conservative economic policies can improve economies in the state, especially in the western and eastern portions of the state.
As Black History Month ends, the work continues, and much of the work needs to be focused on learning more about how conservative, America First focused policies can retore America’s promise of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. We can learn and appreciate amazing leaders from the past to mobilize and enact conservative policy changes we need today to empower and uplift every voice in our Black community.
Paris Dennard is a prominent communications and political strategist and consultant who has worked at all levels of government and Republican politics.