Despite the narrative from the progressive media, President Trump and his administration have indeed been working to engage on the issues currently bubbling up in the black community. The President recently held a roundtable discussion on race relations with prominent black voices, co-hosted by Dr. Ben Carson. The conversations are being had at the federal level even though the progressive press refuses to cover them in detail.
Case in point: On Friday morning, Vice President Pence held a “listening session” (I love that term so much in comparison to a “roundtable” because it denotes active listening rather than preaching) at Covenant Church in Pittsburgh on faith and community leadership that included black thought leaders as well as Senator Pat Toomey. Covenant Church Bishop Joseph L. Garlington helmed the session. The discussion included subjects related to faith, grace, and hearing each other out but, of course, we here at Redstate are particularly proud of contributor Lenny McAllister (who is also the Director of Western Pennsylvania for Commonwealth Foundation), who was invited to sit in on the session and expound on his thoughts regarding current events.
McAllister began by laying out Pence’s impressive political record on issues that directly affect the black community such as civic leadership and school choice. He then moved into an emotionally poignant monologue rooted in the very region in which they were holding the discussion. McAllister pointed to the fluctuations in the local economy as a visible narrative of the decline of black prosperity and the frustrations that accompany it. East Hill shopping center was once a bustling center of economic activity, with largely black-owned businesses. Over the years, it has become a hollowed-out symbol of decline and the reduction of economic power for black Americans.
Now if you go past it you see that there is basically one church, a junkyard and broken dreams.
Part of what we have to understand in these courageous conversations right now is that a lot of that work is at the finish line for many African Americans. The funding of HBCUs has been a fantastic thing if you got proper education kindergarten-12th grade where you can go to college. It’s a great thing for you to be able to take [part in] the work Scott’s doing in Opportunity Zones if you have the business skills necessary to make yourself successful. Even the criminal justice reform that we’ve been talking about over the last couple of months…that’s fantastic work but that’s after you’ve paid your debt to society and tried to put your life back together. Now we’re dealing with a schism that we didn’t create, the schism was created from generations long ago but right now we do have a moral obligation and historic moment to not just address that schism but to historically and finally close the gap that we see between blacks and whites. That’s where public policy comes in.
McAllister went on to point out that now is the time to be pushing good education policy, like ESAs and school choice, saying such policies can help black youth catch up in the education realm in order to take advantage of the previously mentioned federal progress on justice reform and business opportunities.
We can also look at criminal justice reform but we have to look at it and say let’s not look at the tail end of the school to prison pipeline. Let’s go to the other end and turn off the valve so we can stop having kids come through the school to prison pipeline. That’s where education reform comes into play. That’s also where appropriate police reform can come into play. Too often our kids are over-policed even in their own schools, let alone with tactics such as no-knock searches and warrantless searches, which I do believe your colleague Senator Rand Paul has introduced legislation to go after no-knock warrants, things that are disproportionately used against African Americans.
Mcallister acknowledged that the current administration has already done things that the larger public has not seen such as doubling funding for the DC school voucher program even after the first black President attacked the program. Black Americans don’t just want “law and order”, they want constitutional law and order. They want to know and believe that the constitution applies to them and they want to know how.
I think that we have the moment to really be difference-makers here when it comes to policy.
We can have the highest aspirations for what we say we’re going to do in our communities [but] they don’t believe us.
The public policy director said we need to show that the American Dream is for all and not be afraid of the blowback or the insults. McAllister invoked his Catholic faith as encouragement for how God calls us all to service, humility, and constructive activism. He also didn’t miss the opportunity to tout Pittsburgh’s six Super Bowl championships, as any good Pittsburgh native is wont to do; but also quite brilliantly related the gap between that pride and the economic position most black Americans in Pittsburgh occupy as a hindrance to how law enforcement (and society at large) views African American males outside of the context of professional sports.
McAllister’s comments were particularly illuminating without being inflammatory. The entire discussion was extremely valuable. Perhaps my bias as a Christian is showing here, but I think it added even more value than the very informative “race relations roundtable” discussion hosted by Trump this week. We will not extract ourselves from this vice grip of rage if we do not employ a nuanced but purposeful combination of faith, policy, grace, and open discussion.
The entire discussion can be viewed here. Kudos to Vice President Pence for recognizing the need to combine the historical faith of the black community with our modern realities.
And, of course, kudos to Redstate’s Lenny McAllister for his thoughtful and provoking commentary. May God bless America as we work to move forward and be better. We can do this.
Editor’s note: this article was edited for clarity after publication.