Every year as Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel has hosted the annual RNC Black Republican Trailblazers Awards to honor Black Republican leaders. Last year, out of an abundance of caution and restrictions in Washington DC the event was virtual, with hundreds of viewers tuning in to watch Dr. Ben Carson and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams receive awards for their work on President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force. Their hard work led to the successful formation and implementation of Operation Warp Speed, which delivered three vaccines that have saved millions of lives worldwide.
This year, Chairwoman McDaniel held the event in the Commonwealth of Virginia and honored Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears with the Trailblazer Award. The RNC Trailblazer Award is presented to someone who displays exceptional leadership in the Republican Party. Whether it be working to advance conservative legislation, helping to get Republicans elected, or committing themselves to growing the Republican Party, RNC Trailblazers have a track record of getting things done.
Long before Lieutenant Governor Sears made history by becoming the first woman and first Black female to be elected statewide in Virginia, she also won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican, representing a majority Black district back in 2002. That was a first for any Republican in the Commonwealth since 1865. I have heard Sears tell the story of how she purposely decided to move her family into the heart of her urban district at that time. She said it was what the media would describe as “the ghetto,” but she did not care. Her advisors thought it was unsafe for her and her family, but she was committed to meeting and living among her community to better serve them in Richmond.
Her story reminds me of another Black Republican, Lynne Patton, who made history as the highest-ranking Black female in the Trump administration serving as Region II Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In her role, Patton moved into the New York City Housing Authority for a month to have a better understanding of how the system has been failing its residents and be better positioned to advocate for immediate resolutions and upgrades to improve the local quality of life.
In addition to Winsome Sears, Chairwoman McDaniel presented Indiana Republican Party Director of Diversity and Engagement Whitley Yates with the RNC Emerging Leader Award, and Woodson Center Founder and President, Dr. Robert L. Woodson, Sr. with the RNC Legacy Award.
Whitley Yates’ story of being a young single mother striving to not let her surroundings dictate her future through hard work, mentors, education, faith, and family is exactly what Bob Woodson has been advocating and promoting for decades through his Woodson Center. In many ways, Woodson’s work was personified in the success of young Black women like Whitley, whose bright daughter, Monroe Elizabeth, proudly led the attendees in the pledge of allegiance.
Today, under her leadership with the Indiana GOP, the new Indiana Republican Diversity Leadership Series is in its second year training the next generation of diverse Republican leaders in the Hoosier State. Following in the steps of Black conservative women like Angela Sailor, Janice Rogers Brown, and Jewel Lafontant, Whitley is also in law school.
Woodson was also well-deserving of the RNC Legacy Award. The Woodson Center, which he founded, is focused on helping residents of low-income neighborhoods address issues within their communities. His conservative social activism dates to the 1960s when as a young civil rights activist, he developed and coordinated national and local community revitalization programs.
Cheney University is America’s first Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and Woodson is a Cheney graduate. Honoring his legacy as an HBCU alum, the RNC Trailblazers reception featured music from the Virginia Union University Ensemble Choir.
While I do not how many of the choir members are Democrat or Republican, I can tell you that it was meaningful for them to be in the presence of Black Republican leaders of all different demographics gathering to honor Black American achievement. I am very proud of each of them for being present and singing a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” their original composition for the 2022 Virginia Gubernatorial Inauguration, “One Virginia,” and “Lean on Me.”
When I asked the choir to sing the Stevie Wonder version of “Happy Birthday” as a surprise for Chairwoman McDaniel, they saw a room full of Black Americans clap and sing along, not missing a beat. In many ways it was an opportunity for them to see something that the media does not like to highlight: the simple fact that just because you are Republican does not make you disconnected from your community or culture.
I was proud to see Revolt Black News, an outlet focused on providing news to a younger Black demographic, jump at the chance to cover the event in an impactful interview with Chairwoman McDaniel as the head of the Republican Party. They also interviewed Whitley Yates as the future of the Republican Party and celebrated past honorees like Katrina Pierson, Senator Tim Scott, Kay Coles James, and Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The future for Black Republicans is bright.
Paris Dennard is the National Spokesperson and Director of Black Media Affairs for the Republican National Committee (RNC). Follow him on Twitter: @PARISDENNARD.