Quite possibly, one of the most important meetings impacting the future of the GOP at the Republican National Convention in Tampa didn’t happen at the Convention Center or the Ice Palace.
As a Republican, one would think that I would remember more about the full day of events on the culminating day of this year’s RNC Convention in Tampa. Sure, there was a lot going on the Thursday leading up to Governor Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination. Yes, the Politic365 #VoiceYourVote tour made its final Florida stop at the University of South Florida to talk with college-age voters about the issues that matter to them the most in 2012.
Yet, despite experiencing the new, the reformed, the passionate, and the odd displayed on stage at the Republican National Convention, I genuinely feel as though the best experience that I had as a Republican during my time in Florida was at a little school in Tampa on a hot summer school day.
If there is any hope for the Republican Party to lead in the 21st century as elected officials, there must be plenty more days like it for more of us.
A simple random act of kindness allowed me to avoid walking 2 miles in the Tampa heat. It ended up leading to an opportunity to talk to a group of middle school children in one of Tampa’s inner-city neighborhoods, providing a glimpse of their perspective on the RNC Convention that took over their hometown for the week. Mrs. Pam Leslie, a volunteer for Bible Truth Academy, was kind enough to offer the ride. Her kindness was nothing new to people that known her throughout Tampa. She is known throughout the Tampa area as a Christian-based, proactive woman that has spent decades in the community working to improve the lives of her communities’ children, from the B.E.S.T. (Brain Expansion Scholastic Training) program to summer music camps. Her husband is simply known as “Smiling Jack” and was featured for his impact on the community in the Tampa Tribune. Her latest small gesture of kindness led to an opportunity for the children of the school to have a chance to experience the RNC from an insider’s perspective.
For me, it was a chance to see – again – where the RNC needs to invest and appear after the cameras are gone in order to build up themselves as capable, empathetic, and engaged leaders for the next generations of Americans.
My time with the students of Bible Truth Academy was not extraordinarily long, but it meant something to all of us. For me, I had a chance to meet some life-changing women in addition to laughing and talking with the bright students in the classroom. In addition to Mrs. Leslie, I had the pleasure of meeting Mother Hodges, an 85-year-old volunteer of Bible Truth Academy. Often called the “Mother Theresa of Tampa”, she uses her experiences as an decades-long advocate for African-American children as well as the people of Haiti, filling the roles of grandmother figure, tenure academic, and historian for the students she mentors at the Academy. Mother Hodges has worked with various leaders (including President Bill Clinton) for the benefit of the struggling nation. I also met community advocate, economist, and author Julie Gibson, another volunteer giving time to the students of Bible Truth Academy teaching classes such as Wall Street 101. For the students, it meant an opportunity to talk about politics and ask questions necessary to learn more about what was going on in their hometown in a judgment-free environment. For 2 lucky students, their involvement in the conversation led to winning souvenirs from Wednesday’s RNC session, including a pass to the infamous CNN Grill.
Whereas some see the value for the Republican Party in having speakers such as Utah’s Mayor Mia Love and New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez on stage earlier in the week, that value is inhibited if the next generations of American voters are incapable of connecting with those leaders. Perhaps this would be due to differences in socioeconomic stations of life. Perhaps this would be due to a lack of exposure. Either way, without changing the dynamic, the Republican Party faces a future of detachment from a growing segment of Americans and an outlook of minority political status.
A sad aspect of the visit to the academy was that during a week where the Republican Party trotted out a diversity of speakers, the intelligent children of the school did not know who Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell were. The encouraging opportunity that comes out of this reality is that future generations of Americans can come to learn just as much about the only 2 Black Secretaries of State as they would President Barack Obama or Congressman Maxine Waters, if only my fellow Republicans take the time to focus on these opportunities to educate the youth with our story.
As long as America continues the demographic trend heading towards a minority-majority population within the coming decades, the Republican Party must begin to look forward to small but significant opportunities to engage young minorities in order to become politically relevant as these students mature into adulthood. In addition to the theory that smaller government principles can never take over in urban America without an increase in household prosperity within urban America, Republican leadership will become increasingly marginalized if conservatives remain on the sidelines in the inner-cities of America. Republicans must provide fair, unbiased, and non-partisan views of Republican history (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in engaging ways at the stations of life where future voters reside today. When we do so more often, we will find opportunities to optimize our conservative principles as espoused throughout the Tampa convention: smaller government, more individual accountability, and enduring belief in spreading the American Dream to all. For the future of the Republican Party, those opportunities for the future do not simply exist when we hear the acclaimed speeches of rising GOP stars like Congressman Paul Ryan. They also exist in the hallways of inner-city schools and basketball courts around the nation. Sometimes, the road to returning to the days of the big-tent GOP and a model of diverse leadership for the future starts with engaging a small group of intelligent and personable students at a little Black school off the beaten path from the big-time convention floor.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic 365 featured on several national and international outlet including CNN, Current TV “The Young Turks”, and Sirius-XM Radio. Catch Lenny on the Canada’s Sun News Network this Sunday at 2:00 pm Eastern time (11:00 am Pacific) for more analysis on the GOP presidential ticket. His new book, “Spoken Thoughts of an Amalgamated Advocate in Today’s America” is now available electronically on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.com . Catch Lenny’s analysis of the RNC in Tampa on The American Urban Radio Network.