Former Vice President Joe Biden is hoping that barbershop conversations will equate to an increase in voter turnout for the Democratic presidential nominee among Black men in November.
Modeled similarly to LeBron James’ hit HBO show “The Shop,” which presents “unfiltered conversation and debate from the biggest names in sports and entertainment,” Biden’s campaign launched his own version, called “Shop Talk,” last month. The weekly forum is a virtual roundtable discussion with prominent Black men on the challenges they face across the country.
In 2016, 4.4 million people who cast their vote for President Obama in 2012 — more than a third of whom were Black — did not vote in the presidential election. “Shop Talk” is one of several initiatives the Biden campaign hopes to use to motivate those same voters.
The program launched on the heels of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot in the back by police seven times as he opened the door to his car in Kenosha, Wis. Guests for the debut included attorney Bakari Sellers, actor Terrence J, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., and music producer Jermaine Dupri.
This week, participants will include rapper Jeezy and Michigan Rep. Jewell Jones, D-Inkster, and the conversation will focus on how Black men’s issues impact the nation.
“[I’m looking for] insight, understanding and clarity,” grammy-nominated artist Jeezy, whose real name is Jay Wayne Jenkins, said of participating in the series. “I am happy to ask questions that I want to know and get answers.”
Jeezy said he hopes “Shop Talk” will achieve its goal of getting more Black men to the polls.
“Being a man of the people and a Black man in America, I feel I need to encourage the people to get out there and use the tool of voting,” he said. “We can’t just be upset. We have to get out here. I’ve got to get out here and do what I can do.”
In June, Jeezy joined the NAACP’s "March on Georgia" to demand an end to systemic racism, police brutality and voter suppression. He’s even marched with his son in recent months.
“My message has been clear,” Jeezy said. “Ain't no justice, no peace. I’m tired of burying my homeboys. I’m tired of sending my boys money in prison. … We have to get out here and fight for what we want.”
In November of 2008, Jeezy released the song “My President” in which he celebrated the election of the country’s first Black president in Barack Obama. The song rose to number 13 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Tracks chart.
Jeezy noted that he voted for Obama twice. He acknowledges now that times are different today than they were during Obama’s presidency.
“The world wasn’t in turmoil,” Jeezy said. “My neighbors didn’t look at me like I was a threat. I didn’t have to see my local mall burning down. I value people. Politics is politics. At the end of the day you can run your company how you choose. I can respect that as a man. If a man is running his business, but his family is not doing well. I can’t respect that.”
Jones, meanwhile, sees the plight of Black America through a different lens. In 2016, at the age of 21, he became the youngest state representative in Michigan history, winning his election when he was still a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
“I'm always telling people [in the past], this is the most important election, but this one I think is probably one of the most important ones,” Jones said. “I think in the Supreme Court and the federal courts, the president has been appointing people that are just blatantly racist. So I think it's important for the Black folk in general to realize that the voting isn't just about the president this year — it's about everyone from the top of the ticket all the way down.”
Jones adds that he feels that Biden should focus on pathways for the Black community to create generational wealth.
“I definitely think that folks want to hear about guaranteed income for everybody, decriminalizing poverty and the growth of Black business,” Jones said. “I don't think we want to just talk about justice and fairness and equality, but also equity. … Talk about generational wealth for the Black community.”
In 2016, the Black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6 percent in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6 percent in 2012. And while 98 percent of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, this number dropped to 81 percent of Black men.
While the addition of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as Biden’s vice presidential pick energized many Black women, the launch of “Shop Talk” shows he understands that he likely still has some work to do with Black men.
President Trump has aggressively gone after the Black vote this year, often praising himself for the work he has done for the Black community. Trump regularly boasts of having “done more for the Black community than any president since Abraham Lincoln.”
Jeezy, however, has a different perspective.
“I’m a judge of character. ... I hear people talk about Trump and say he’s a businessman,” Jeezy said. “If you have a successful business, but the people are in turmoil, are you successful? If people are burning the warehouse down, but you’re making money, is that success? We have to have integrity. If you take the money away, what do you have?”
Jones admits that he had early reservations about a Biden/Harris ticket, but is now fully on board.
“We talk about creating space for people, but from what I’ve seen here in Michigan and with the Democratic Party, usually it’s all a talking point,” he said. “So I'm happy to see that ‘Shop Talk’ is actually engaging people from different walks of life and bringing them to the table. ... Black men really just need to hear that the campaign is behind them and that they're going to be supporting us not only right now where they're trying to get the vote, but into the future. I think people just really want to know that they have a voice and that they have somebody who's going to look out for them. Loyalty is important.”
But while Jeezy stopped short of officially endorsing Biden, he said he’s ready to listen.
“I’m here,” Jeezy said. “We have the time.”
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