Some would say that we've seen this kind of outreach before from the Republican Party. The year was 2000. President George W. Bush had just "won" a photo-finish presidential race branded by "hanging chads" that led to the disqualifying of Democratic ballots and a painful loss for Tennessee favorite son, Al Gore Jr.
One week after the presidential election, Bishop G.E. Patterson of the Church of God in Christ had been elected presiding bishop. The acrimony between the political parties was palpable.
In late March of 2001, President Bush welcomed key African-American religious leaders, including Bishop Patterson, to the White House. More than a dozen convened with the president to lend their support for a plan to award federal dollars to faith-based programs. Patterson was quoted as saying that he did not vote for President Bush, adding that if the plan worked as intended, "there would be no reason for black people not to vote for him four years from now."
Fast forward 14 years, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) is meeting in Memphis this week for its annual spring confab. As the RNC moves to build its party to a year-round operation, the Victory 365 program is unveiling. This grassroots field, data and digital effort across the country is envisioned as opening new avenues of communication by GOP candidates on local ballots in every community, according to its organizers. They hope COGIC leaders will catch the vision.
"As an organization gearing up to operate all year round, Republican candidates and campaigns will have the tools needed to succeed in 2014, 2016, and beyond," said Orlando Watson, the RNC's communications director for Black Media.
For Memphis' Bishop David Hall Sr., pastor of the historic Temple Church Of God In Christ, the substance driving the initiative is the most important element in mending the disconnect between the Republican Party and the GOP.
"I don't see this so much as a 'new' Republican Party per se," said Bishop Hall. "The Republican Party is trying to make the transition from irrelevancy to relevancy. As the country grows more brown every day, they realize that the old racial distinctions are not going to work any more."
Hall says he is an Independent voter and consistently votes a split ticket, as his moral convictions lead him.
"I am a conservative, and I take my faith into that voting booth with me. Republicans cannot swing too far out from their platform of values, no matter who they're trying to reach. Blacks have changed from our moral positions on abortion, our families have broken down with high numbers of single-parent households, teen pregnancies, and over-populated prison facilities full of our people," said Hall.
"Socially, will the Republican Party be fair? We will see. If they are going to embrace minorities with a pro-business and individual liberty ideals, business and financial opportunities must be open to us equally and without condition. If that is to happen, the party stands a greater chance of having blacks take a second look at them."
COGIC Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. and church leaders set forth their own Urban Initiative, which focuses on five main areas: (1) Education; (2) Economic Development; (3) Crime Prevention; (4) Family; and (5) Financial Literacy.
"We advocate promoting dialogue on these concerns to advance the formation of real opportunity and erasing the perceived racial divide between the Republican Party and minorities," said Hall.
Democrats have a lot of work to do as well, he said.
"They elected the first black president and there is that whole feeling that we should be grateful they have been so good to us. I don't believe that. We did nominate and elect the first black president. It's not that they have been so good to us. We should have been elected a black president long time ago."
Watson said the RNC looks forward to dialoguing with Bishop Hall and the other church leaders this week.
"RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and other Republican members enjoyed a great time at lunch hosted by COGIC at the famous Catfish Cabin. The excitement will only build from here. It's going to be a good week."