Think black people aren't voting for Trump? Guess again

VotersForTrump
Saleem Khalil Vanderpump (left), co-owner of Bellargo Boutique on South Street, and Christina Cherry, a social worker and mother of three from Upper Darby, both of whom are Donald Trump supporters.

You wouldn't think that a black gay man living in heavily Democratic Philadelphia would be a big Donald Trump supporter.

So, imagine my surprise when over lunch recently, Saleem Khalil Vanderpump - who belongs to all of those groups - told me he had every intention of voting Republican this fall.

I was, like, whaaat? Vanderpump, co-owner of the Bellargo Boutique in the 500 block of South Street, explained that he is a huge fan of the self-described billionaire.

I mean huge. He admires Trump's success as a businessman and has bought into the Republican candidate's campaign promise to "make America great again."

To him, Trump is the ultimate political outsider - a baller with swag who is married to a gorgeous ex-model and the visionary behind Trump Tower, other New York City skyscrapers, and the fabulous Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump's proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country; his having referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists; and the candidate's insulting remarks about a Mexican judge haven't swayed Vanderpump one bit.

"I feel like Trump knows how to make money. He knows what it takes to create jobs because he's done it," explained Vanderpump, who also designs the Cherry Pie Swimwear line. "There are so many young men in my neighborhood on my block who can't get a job. They sit on the block all day long. I feel like Donald Trump can get this turned around."

And, he added, "I'm not the only one."

I got really still.

I wanted to know. What self-respecting black person would vote for Trump? Vanderpump dropped a few names of mutual acquaintances. That piqued my curiosity. As soon as my schedule cleared, I started trying to find other black folks in Philly who support Trump.

"Good luck with that," one friend quipped.

According to recent polls, only 1 percent of African American voters support Trump, so I wasn't optimistic. Besides, who would own up to it? Especially after the tone-deaf remarks Trump has made concerning African Americans.

Then, someone emailed me on Facebook. After that, I heard from another person. No, I didn't get a lot of names. But considering that Mitt Romney didn't get a single vote in several Philadelphia voting districts back in 2012, the fact that I got any at all felt like I had hit paydirt.

"What I like about him is he created his own world by hard work," explained Christina Cherry, a social worker and single mother of three who lives in Upper Darby. "I feel like that's kind of the American way but we kind of got away from that. We are depending so much on the government.

"I feel like he may be able to take individuals back to that state of mind where, yes, the government may help you but it's not the No. 1 source [of help]," she added. "That's what's going to make America good again."

When I asked if she had any concerns about any possible racial baggage Trump might have, Cherry pointed to Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton's role in the passage of the 1994 crime bill, which is widely credited with leading to greater incarceration rates among African Americans. At the time, she referred to gang members as "super-predators" and has since apologized.

"He may be a racist but I believe Hillary may not be an outright racist but her husband's actions and her past comments reflect racism too," Cherry said.

The black Trump supporters I interviewed referred to all the usual things you hear. They're fed up with the sluggish economic recovery and think President Obama hasn't done enough to help African Americans. They also are fearful of what an influx of Muslim immigrants from Syria and other parts of the world might bring.

"If we can't vet them properly, why would we let them in here?" asked Daphne Jenkins, a leader in the city's 16th Ward and a longtime North Philly resident.

"He's trying to put America first. We look at what's been going on and it hasn't been working for black people," Jenkins added. "It's stupid for us to limit ourselves to the resources of one party."

I tried emailing Blacks for Trump on Facebook. I heard back from Craig Jackson Jr., a 16-year-old Northeast Philly resident who told me he helps administer the page. When I asked him why, Jackson said, "He will bring jobs to this country and it will really work out."

Laire Miller, of Jersey City, said she hasn't been the least bit turned off as some African Americans have been by Trump's recent push to attract black votes.

I, personally, was taken aback when Trump addressed the black community as if it's one giant, downtrodden monolith. The reality is that most African Americans are not impoverished, and according to Politifact, Trump's estimation that 59 percent of African American youngsters are unemployed is grossly overstated as well.

"The bottom line - no matter how he hurts your feelings - is he's right," said Miller, a professional joke writer. "We have voted for the Democrats for 50 years and most of us are still poor. We still have heavy crime in our neighborhoods. Most of us go to really bad schools and we're still being shot down in the streets. What do we have to lose?"

Of course, I had to put a call into Renee Amoore, deputy chair of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania. When I asked her about African American support for Trump, she said she believes it's greater than the current polling reveals.

"They're being quiet about it because they don't want to be attacked," Amoore told me. "We're used to being attacked."

As she spoke, I thought of a female, African American associate who openly supports Trump but declined to be interviewed because she was fearful of negative backlash.

"But the bottom line is they don't want the same old stuff," Amoore added.

"They want a change.

"And they like what Trump offers - so they overlook his verbal missteps," she said.

"He didn't get to be Donald Trump by being nice and keeping his mouth shut," Vanderpump pointed out. "I just feel like we've never seen anything like Trump."

I couldn't argue with that. Finally, something Vanderpump and I could agree on.

@JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen armstrj@phillynews.com