Memo to the New Black Republicans in Congress

There's a lot to celebrate in the election of Reps. Allen West and Tim Scott. Even though they represent predominantly white constituencies, they have an opportunity to play historic roles on behalf of black America.

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Newly elected congressmen Allen West and Tim Scott

Dear Congressmen-elect,

You don't know me. I don't live in either of your districts, but -- as an American, a Republican and a black man -- I think we have enough common interests for you to lend me an ear for a few minutes.

I know that there has been a lot of talk about the two of you making it into the House of Representatives. I was proud of your efforts, from the primary season to your victories in November. As a Frederick Douglass Republican, I paid a lot of attention to your progress during the election cycle. I know the obstacles you faced, from the initial doubts about your legitimacy to the issues that all candidates generally encounter. I know that people expected you to fall off the path or lose to better-known candidates. Yet you won, and I am glad for it, along with many other Americans.

You won because of your dedication to the voters in your district. As candidates running in mostly white districts, you could not make race a dominant issue in your campaigns. That was a good winning strategy. What I want to talk to you about now, though, is not campaigning but, rather, leadership.

Your districts will expect you to be humble civic servants who reflect their wishes in Washington. However, I would also argue that in your tenure as leaders on Capitol Hill, race will be an unavoidable element of the equation.

You have a choice, gentlemen: You can be footnotes in American history or you can play historic roles in tomorrow's America. Black people in America need you to become historic civic servants who will also advocate on their behalf as we work to lift America out of the problems that keep us mediocre internationally -- in education, employment and health care -- all issues that impact black America negatively.

There are rumors that you may not join the Congressional Black Caucus, in part because it has been a grossly partisan and left-leaning organization, often regardless of how that stance may adversely affect its African-American constituents. I urge you to accept membership in the organization. Your inclusion can move us toward a common agenda for African Americans that unites us in a search for peace and prosperity and that gets past the partisanship that keeps America unfulfilled.

Even if the CBC remains unabashedly liberal, you should work actively to change it for the benefit of black America. You have already shaken up the political world with your victories; shaking up a small group of comfortable politicians -- many who have overstayed their welcome in Washington through gerrymandered districts -- should be easier in comparison. Either way, we need political balance and intellectual competition throughout America, and as long as the Democratic political monopoly within black America exists without challenge, America will continue to lag along socially. You made history on election night, but you cannot truly be historic in this endeavor without changing the dynamic that strangles us.

I am sure that you probably think you don't have much in common with the current Caucus members or even with President Obama. One thing that we do have in common, though, is our disgust with the death and destruction that black people commonly experience today in America.

Lead the effort to come together during Black History Month to create a public service announcement featuring the two of you, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and President Obama pleading for a change in our communities for a better America. You won on the strength of the Tea Party and its mantra of smaller government. However, you will never be successful in the mission that got you to Washington if the big problems facing people in urban America are not addressed -- issues that disproportionately affect black folks and, perhaps, drive the need for big government. This PSA would be historic and could be a symbolic step in the right direction.

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