Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Widen the Lens’: Black Republican Club offers new solutions to timeless problems By Chelsea J. Samuel

PALATKA -- Abe Alexander was a loyal Democrat when former Florida NAACP President Charles Cherry convinced him to switch parties.

“I was a Democrat all the way!” Alexander yelled, laughing. “I understand the one-sided political approach.”

Alexander recalls his favorite metaphor when explaining his decision to form a Black Republican Club in Putnam County. He sees democracy as an eagle and an eagle with only one wing — or a community with only one political party — cannot survive.

Alexander serves as president of the club, a group looking for solutions to problems in the black community they say aren’t being addressed by the Democratic Party, which has traditionally had more support from black voters.

“It makes you wonder: Who’s not doing their job?” he said.

Alexander is starting the club as black Republicans are gaining national support. Both of President Bush’s secretaries of state are black and several states have black Republican candidates for Congress or governor.

“Every time I see Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, it sends a signal to the entire black population that the sky’s the limit,” he said.

One of the first events Putnam County’s Black Republicans put on was a financial aid workshop, which had a special guest when U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Sarasota, showed up.

“I was amazed. I was just excited that she was ready to carry the torch,” Alexander said of the surprise visit.

At the financial aid event, Alexander helped several high school students navigate the financial aid system and plans to personally work with each attendee to ensure success.

Most of Alexander’s plans have that kind of feel — one-on-one counseling designed to liberate the black community from poverty. He is less concerned with pushing a conservative agenda than with helping his community find affordable housing and educational opportunities. He isn’t trying to fight with Democrats, just offer a new perspective.

“They’re not even chartered and they’re already making a difference,” Harris said.

Alexander’s agenda differs from the national one. The National Black Republican Association got together last year, said national Chairwoman Frances Rice, to provide resources and encouragement to locally formed groups.

“There was a void,” she said.

While Alexander emphasizes the need for more perspectives, Rice called Democrats “Socialists” who turned inner cities into “economic and social wastelands.”

“Our main goal is to return African-Americans back to their Republican roots,” she said. “These Democrats are harming them.”

Alexander hopes that by showing his community new alternatives to old problems, he’ll convert Democrats to his side, just as he was converted.

Alexander said he expects they’ll get their charter soon. Meanwhile, the group meets the first Tuesday of every month and is busy engaging the 300 black Republicans in Putnam County, Alexander said.

“Once we start educating lifelong Democrats of the mission and why there’s a need for change, our numbers will grow out of our expectations,” he said.

Some of the main areas of focus for the black Republicans are housing and minimum wage.

“When (Sen. John) Kerry addressed minimum wage, he sprinkled it with honey sugar,” Alexander said of debates before the 2004 presidential election. “When Bush addressed minimum wage, he sprinkled it with vinegar.”

Alexander described minimum wage as a trap people fell into, keeping them in a cycle of poverty and away from education.

“I do not advocate minimum wage to enslave people for a lifetime when they can do better and go to the next level,” he said. “If you want a better life, develop your skills and make more money.”

Alexander said he is planning a program similar to the financial aid workshop to teach people how to get a loan from a bank. He said housing is an area in which Democrats aren’t meeting the needs of the community.

“There are other road maps to housing other than Habitat for Humanity,” Alexander said.

“There are other road maps that this county is not addressing.”

Linda Wells, chairwoman of the Putnam County Republican Executive Committee, said Republicans seek solutions to problems that address individuals and communities, a contrast to Democrats trying to get the government to solve problems.

“I want to see improvement in our community. I want to see this be a better place to live and for our children and grandchildren to live,” she said, adding that the Black Republican Club can help achieve that goal.

Alexander said his club will work to solve problems faced by the black community because he’s part of the black community. He said anyone is welcome at meetings and events.

He hopes the club will unite existing black Republicans to create a group that will let legislators know what’s going on in Putnam County.

“This Black Republican Club will be calling Tallahassee Republicans,” he said.

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