Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., talks about the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the debt crisis on July 30, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

RNC Throws Festive Lunch for Black History Month

There was a gospel choir. And Allen West showed up.

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., talks about the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over the debt crisis on July 30, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

Former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., was among the guests at the second annual Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Tuesday.

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In another move to prevent “black Republican” from being a continued oxymoron, the Republican National Committee took over the historic Howard Theatre -- with a gospel choir in tow -- for the second annual Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Tuesday as part of Black History Month.

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Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, delivering the keynote, colorfully explained the problem. “There were times when to be a person with black and Republican in that same phrase, your mama looked at you cross-eyed, your daddy kind of weren’t his,” Williams said to laughs. (More seriously, though, 93 percent of black voters voted for President Barack Obama in the last election and black voting outpaced white.)

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tried to outline a solution. “You cannot make the sale unless you show up and ask for the order -- that’s step one,” Priebus said. He recalled the GOP’s strategy with black voters for many years. “We have suffered as a national party [by] becoming a party that has shown up once every four years about three months before an election,” Priebus noted. “I will tell you that that is a losing strategy and it has come to an end.”

Under Priebus’ reign, the RNC has made an effort to diversify. The party's Growth and Opportunity Project seeks to engage minority communities and women. And Priebus made a point to note that the RNC is hiring at a community level to engage these typically Democratic-leaning constituencies. “I’ve said from the beginning I’m not interested in hiring a few people down the hallway and calling it outreach,” Priebus said. “Guys, I want to make you proud of this party.”

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Tuesday’s honorees included veterans of the party -- William Brooks, Bush 41’s assistant secretary of Labor, Judge Sara Harper of Ohio’s 8th District Court of Appeals and Louis W. Sullivan, Bush 41’s secretary of Health and Human Services.

The luncheon attracted an eclectic group, with attendees coming in from all over the country. Traci Braxton, singer Toni Braxton’s sister, was in the crowd. “Who’s actually going to be releasing an album soon,” Priebus gushed from the podium. There were a handful of former Washington Redskins and even some Democrats, too. Former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., showed up, along with former CNN talking head Roland Martin, now working for NewsOne Now.

After the ceremony West was spotted taking pictures with doting fans, while Martin chatted up attendees. “They’re not an endangered species,” Martin told Whispers. “The thing is, I’ve known about black Republicans for years.”