There are a lot of stereotypes about black folks who back Donald Trump, but Shalira Taylor doesn’t epitomize any of them when you speak to her. For one, she isn’t particularly bombastic in her support of Trump, who is widely seen by the black community as a racist.
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Also, unlike the president she supports, Taylor speaks with compassion when she talks about crime and the practice of over-policing for crime reduction. As a candidate for Ward 12 representative on the Cleveland City Council, Taylor hopes to bring a criminal-justice, reform-minded approach to the area. For example, she wants to create programs aimed at re-entry for people leaving prison. One of the problems she sees in her community is recidivism. Hiring more cops is only placing a Band-Aid on a problem that requires surgery, Taylor said during a phone interview:
The people who are returning from drug programs, people getting out of jail for selling drugs, people caught for robbery, they need the opportunity to be able to succeed in what they are trying to do instead of us giving them the boot and saying they’re no good, can’t work and then go back to a life of crime. We’re trying to stop the cycle in which people are returning to society and then going back to prison.
A lifelong Catholic, Taylor views herself less as a Republican (though she is very much active in Cleveland’s GOP scene) and more as a fiscal and social conservative who feels black people have been cheated by the Democratic establishment that takes black people’s votes for granted. Black people in Cleveland have not progressed under Democratic leadership, Taylor believes.
Her opponent, incumbent Councilman Anthony Brancatelli, has been endorsed by the city’s major papers, with one of them saying that Taylor is “enthusiastic and committed, but lacks Brancatelli’s deep understanding of how to address the issues that face the city.”
Taylor, of course, would disagree. The owner of a small marketing and promotions business, DMT Cleveland, Taylor was born and raised in the city. And while she has never held public office, she did run, unsuccessfully, for state representative last year. Trump’s campaign actually helped her last year. Former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson spoke at one of Taylor’s campaign meetings, which you can see in the video below.
What Taylor is banking on today is folks’ engagement in politics because of how divisive Trump is. Voters want to be more engaged in ways they weren’t before. Given that a candidate’s party isn’t listed on the ballot in Cleveland elections, she hopes that will give people like her more of a shot at winning over voters.
To be sure, Taylor doesn’t hide her support of Trump. If you look through her social media, you will find selfies of her with Trump, Mike Pence, Don King and other Republicans who back the president. She doesn’t fear that any of it will scare off voters.
She spoke of how she feels Trump speaks to the needs of black people. His focus on bringing factory jobs back to the United States is a signature talking point she uses in her own pitch to residents of Ward 12. If she can convince companies in Cleveland to create programs aimed at hiring people who were incarcerated, that would be great for everyone, including black people.
Being black and a Trump supporter could be a cocktail for failure for most politicians trying to win in a city like Cleveland, which is 51.6 percent black. But Taylor is betting on her authentic approach with voters and believes that if she is real with them, they will consider that when they go to the voting booth today.
“I don’t hide behind anything I stand by,” she said. “I have legitimate reasons why I stand by things, and none of them are emotional. If I feel like I can explain to you why I’m a Trump supporter, why I’m pro-life, why I’m Catholic and anything else you want to put me in a box for, I can explain why I am, and I think people respect that.”
Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.