Our Black Party Founders Talk the 2020 Election, Hollywood Participation and the Future: "We Need Everyone to Be Involved"

Our Black Party founders Candace Hollingsworth and Dr. Wes Bellamy.
Courtesy of Our Black Party

Our Black Party co-founders Candace Hollingsworth and Dr. Wes Bellamy.

Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Dr. Wes Bellamy discuss how, in the months since the party's July announcement, they have introduced an education campaign, enlisted nearly 20,000 email opt-ins and worked toward creating a "new political reality for Black people."

When Sean "Diddy" Combs talks about politics, people tend to pay attention. That was certainly the case in October, when the "Vote or Die" founder publicized the launch of Our Black Party in caps-heavy tweets and a RevoltTV interview with Charlamagne Tha God, leading to a flurry of news stories about the founding of the party, which is focused on serving the Black community and its needs.

But by then, the party had in fact been around for a few months and already begun its work: Co-founded by Hyattsville, Maryland Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, former Charlottesville, Virginia Vice-Mayor and City Councilman Dr. Wes Bellamy and the rest of a five-person steering committee, Our Black Party kicked off in July, amid the summer's unprecedented social justice movement focused on Black lives. Since then, the Party has held informational sessions and around 13-14 "state caucus calls," per Bellamy; gained around 20,000 email opt-ins; started an educational campaign on social media that also solicits feedback for the party; sent out a survey to learn what members are most passionate about; and begun to request nominations for state directors, in order to build state networks. Its steering committee includes Portsmouth, Virginia's Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales, former Binghamton, New York Council member Lea Webb and For(bes) the Culture founder Rashaad Lambert.

Still, the co-founders stress that the party is in its "infancy" and they are currently focused on building out the party's infrastructure so it will stick around (the list of upstart American political parties that have crashed and burned is a long one). "We're not in a sprint, we're in a marathon," Bellamy says. "And for that reason, we need to make sure we doing our due diligence in all things, but also being flexible enough to adapt how the culture needs us to." Hollingsworth, for her part, recently announced her resignation as Hyattsville mayor, which will go into effect Dec. 31, to focus on Our Black Party in addition to full-time employment.

With the 2020 election nearing the finish line, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Hollingsworth and Bellamy about the results of the race so far, future initiatives for the party as it focuses on 2021 and whether they want to enlist more music and entertainment-industry support. "I think it's even more important now that our leaders in the entertainment space demonstrate to communities that 'I'm putting my resources, I'm putting my money and my time, I'm putting everything to bear' so we can all function and work together in building something that's going to create a new political reality for Black people," Hollingsworth says.

Now that many — but not all — races in the 2020 election are decided, what are some of the big victories of this election, from the perspective of Our Black Party?

Bellamy: One of the takeaways specifically from Our Black Party's perspective is looking at the quote-unquote power of the Black vote. We saw very clearly the high turnout from Black women specifically for the Democratic Party. And I think that when we see Black women elevated, when they're provided the opportunity to lead, when we see Black people as a whole trusted, put into positions to be able to speak for ourselves as well as put in the infrastructure to show that we know how not only to turn on engagement but also bring people to the polls, you see that Black folk have the power and the leverage to be able to change the country. When you look at a state like Georgia, which has historically been red and hasn't been blue since [1992, when the state went for Bill Clinton], and mostly off of the backs and hard work of Stacey Abrams and her organizing, I think that is a true testament to where we see our nation going and, from Our Black Party's perspective, across not only the South but the country. When Black folk are engaged, when Black folk are energized, when we vote, when we show up, we have the power to take control of our nation, take control of our cities, take control of our communities.

Hollingsworth: The other thing that I would add is that the type of success that we want to see for an electoral politics for Black people, it's clear that it doesn't happen overnight but it's also very clear that it takes sustained and coordinated action, working against systems that are intentionally designed to suppress the vote, and particularly the vote of Black people. We saw that so very clearly in Georgia, where organizations like Fair Fight Action, The New Georgia Project [operated], and there are many other Black women, Black-led organizations that came before those organizations that were laying the groundwork for getting people to not just register to vote and to turn out, but to also to trust that when I turn out, this election isn't going to be stolen from [them] again. That's a commitment that I believe Stacey Abrams made to the residents of Georgia after the gubernatorial election. That work, combined with all of the activities that happened before then and then leading up to this election, really proved that people tried to shut out Black voices, they tried to shut out the Black vote, yet when we coordinate, when we work together, we're able to succeed. But at the same time, it really shouldn't require years' worth of organizing in order to make sure that every vote of every American is counted. It just highlights how weak that system is in that regard.

What about some of the major losses of this election, from Our Black Party's perspective?

Hollingsworth: From my perspective, in terms of a loss, and it's really an enduring loss, it's the erosions of our system that happened as a result of Shelby [County] vs. Holder, how big of a role they continue to play in our elections and our democracy. And it just demonstrates how much work we have to do. I think that is one of the top issues that we're going to have to work with our communities to address is not just in terms of restoring the Voting Rights Act and making sure that the integrity of the process is there, but [it's] people's [trust]. For example, in the state of Michigan, if any of those [Trump campaign] lawsuits were successful, the public discourse around the election being rigged and faulty and all of those things, that makes people believe that the system can't be trusted. And when people can't trust the system, they opt out. We don't want people to get into a situation where they decide, "You know what, it's not even in my interest to try to vote because the system is so rigged." That's why I am so heartened by the wins in Georgia. It shows that, yeah, you can overturn this type of suppression and coordinating suppression, but at the same time, there's so much work that we have to do both as Our Black Party but also in our communities to make sure that people believe in democracy and believe in the democratic processes that we have in place.

Bellamy: While we saw a tremendous increase in voter turnout across the country, it is important to note that we are in a pandemic, Black folks specifically are fighting several pandemics — racism, coronavirus and so forth — and then when we look at what happened in this year's election, I'm really interested in seeing what transpires moving forward, similar to what Candace just alluded to in terms of people believing this myth that the election was "rigged" in some capacity, or this myth or theme that our current president has placed in the air that I've heard from Black folk as well, that they don't quite trust the electoral process, for whatever reason. The Right has won in that regard, in the eyes of many. I'm interested in seeing what transpires and again, how we as Black folk lose moving forward and whether or not some of us become disengaged or go back to being disengaged for some folks, or do we see this as an opportunity where we recognize the power of our voices and we become even more politically active. That's what we're going to be pushing.

Hollingsworth: I will also add that we have to remember that this year not only was an election year, it was also a Census. So on top of dealing with the ways that voter suppression showed up and the weaknesses in our voting rights are evident for this year, we also have to pay attention to the other ways [of voter suppression] tend to go under the radar. When we look at redistricting as a result of the Census at the federal level as well as the state and local levels and how that's going to impact representation going forward, I think there's definitely going to be a role for Our Black Party to play in getting folks to pay attention to it, but to also make sure that we press against any areas where we recognize that Black voices would continue to be shut out.

Are there any remaining races — such as the Georgia runoff elections — that Our Black Party is putting efforts into at the moment?

Hollingsworth: I'm going to say that [with] the presidential election this year, we are an organization in our infancy and it's really important that we grow in a deliberate way so that we're able to be an organization that's around for years to come. There were so many organizations that have been playing in the presidential, federal races for quite some time and we certainly are amplifying those voices to make sure that we don't cloud the conversation around what's needed in those communities, in particular with Georgia. But we look forward to in 2021 definitely identifying some key races, whether that's some gubernatorial races, as well as in preparation for any midterm elections. At that point we'll have laid down a good foundation for the organization, broaden our membership, we're now at nearly 20,000 members and we definitely anticipate growing in the next year, but I see us playing in those races a bit more in 2021, leading into 2022.

In announcing his support for Our Black Party, Sean Combs said that "we need to get Joe Biden in and hold him accountable." Does that reflect your views, and if so, how does Our Black Party plan on holding Biden accountable?

Bellamy: Undoubtedly, it is our duty and responsibility to ensure that we educate our members and educate the people who we're working directly with to hold president-elect Biden accountable. I think it's also a duty of ours, and our responsibility, to work as a coalition and work with other organizations to show very clearly that we all are working to hold president-elect Biden accountable. Specifically from our organization's perspective, we have been working diligently in terms of putting forth information on our social media as well as in our email blasts to all of our members, requesting feedback and information about what they would like to see move forward in the year 2021. We've been talking extensively about what the Black agenda looks like as well as encouraging folks to pay attention to Black to the Future's 2020 policy agenda, and as we continue to educate our electorate and our members, we are better equipped to be able to hold not only president-elect Biden accountable, but also all elected officials accountable to make sure that they're [listening to] the needs of Black folk.

Hollingsworth: The only addition I would say is that right now we're certainly watching appointments as they're happening to key Cabinet positions. There's certainly this idea at this moment that there needs to be a bend back towards moderate politics. The Black agenda is one that is, by necessity, a progressive agenda with a small "p." It is one in order to undo so many of the harms that have been done over centuries, it is necessary that we look at things a little bit differently, that we don't necessarily take the tack of incrementalism because that is the easier way to score wins in a policy world, but rather [ask,] how can we make that policy world bend towards the needs of the Black community, as Wes stated? So with Our Black Party, part of that accountability is seeing who we believe will be good allies in the Cabinet and who we also need to make sure understands those key elements of the Black agenda, what it asks for and how their departments and their agencies are responsible for enacting those critical pieces. I think we have to recognize that everyone in the administration is part of that process and holding that administration accountable means also holding appointed officials accountable, holding staff accountable and starting with information. You can only do that when people create spaces at tables that may exist or when we create our own way of finding our way to that table in the absence of an invitation.

Can you name any of the members of your coalition that you're building, who are on board already?

Hollingsworth: I'm going to say a "no" on that, the reason being that we are solely at this point a PAC, so we are a hybrid PAC, and many of the movement builders in this space, particularly movement organizations for Black people, either begin as [501](c)3s and have a [501](c)4 arm, but there are a few that are solely a PAC and we don't want to put organizations in any situation that might cause harm to them organizationally in terms of violating any of their requirements, so we tread those waters lightly in that we recognize each other's work, we are working to grow together to make sure that we don't undermine each other's work but also that we do that with respect to the types of organizations that we are.

Bellamy: We try to tread that very lightly, but I will say, we've been able to work with a lot of different groups. We've been welcome with open arms from a lot of different people. Candace actually says this often and she's the person that made me think about it in this regard: There's a white-supremacist model that makes us think there can only be one — there can only be one person at the table, only one organization. But we both seen since our inception, there's room for all of us in this quote-unquote family. As we're fighting for freedom, a lot of our brothers and sisters have been ready and open to working with us.

Hollingsworth: The most public relationship of course is in that we are certainly using the Black Agenda 2020 that was developed by Black to the Future Action Fund, so that is the foundation of the agenda that we're working to push forward and certainly is one of those really key relationships.

Looking ahead, do you have plans for subsequent elections, at state, local and/or national levels or for achieving certain policy goals in your platform?

Bellamy: The answer is "yes." I think we have to be very careful about how we speak on it at this moment in time, but let me be clear: We are definitely looking at future races, state, local and otherwise, and we're looking at developing all policies that we are recommending and that we're working with our members and our people on, ensuring that they're centered around Black folk and making sure that equity is at the forefront and the needs and wants of Black people are being listened and heard to. If there was ever a time to do such, I think we know that the time is now.

Hollingsworth: [For Our Black Party,] it's not just about a race or playing in a particular race or being able to elect any particular candidate. For us, the Black agenda is at the center, and so that means that we know that there are a number of elected bodies that are responsible for passing laws that impact the quality of life for Black people where there might not be a single Black person on that council, or a single person who may not necessarily consider themselves progressive. And so our work might not be in electing a new person to that council; our work might be corralling the energy in that community to push that council — however it may lean — to do what is right for that community. I think in 2021 we'll likely see more of that community work than necessarily the big, sexy elections like we saw this year. But I can certainly say we definitely don't want to see ourselves in a position in 2024 where Black people in particular feel that either that their issues are unheard or not addressed or represented clearly in either candidate's agenda, or that there are candidates where we are just simply like "they don't know what we need" and we find ourselves are in a position again saying "Okay, well I guess that’s who we'll vote" for because there's no other option. So that's four years' worth of work that we have to do and that we're committed to doing.

Obviously you have Sean Combs on board. Do you see utility in incorporating other Hollywood or industry types in Our Black Party, are you looking are for more members of that sort?

Bellamy: I think it's imperative for us to all be clear that this isn't Mayor Hollingsworth's party, this isn't Dr. Wes Bellamy's party, this is Our Black Party, and there is room for Black folk from across the diaspora and from across a wide variety of backgrounds and so forth to join. As well as one thing that Mayor Hollingsworth often says, which is that there haven't been many movements that have been sustained only by Black folks, so we need our allies to come in and join with us. For that reason, those who are quote-unquote influencers or celebrities or things of that nature, people who come with different resources, there's absolutely room for them to be able to work with us and we've had conversations with a wide variety of different folks about supporting the work. The work is the work, and just because someone is an influencer, that doesn't negate the shared experiences that many of us have as being Black in America. For us, one thing we often say is, if you want to be part of our party, it's our party, but you have to be aligned with our values. Our values include ensuring that Black folk are centered, that we're working on specific policies and so forth. So again, there's room for celebrities and influencers and if they want to get down, all they have to do is drop us a line, www.ourblackparty.org, sign up and take the survey and tap in, as we like to say.

Hollingsworth: Unequivocally there is not just space for entertainers and influencers in this movement that we are aiming to build, but it is necessary for everyone in every corner of the Black experience to be a part of this. If we think back to the Black Freedom Movement, a large part of the Black Freedom Movement was centered around the messages conveyed in our music, in our poetry, in our literature. We didn't have social media back then, but it's why folks like James Baldwin were at the march in Washington. It's why so many people had a front seat in those spaces, because they captured in their own way the minds and the hearts of Americans, of Black people as well as others. It goes a long way, especially in this time where it feels like money is the end-all and that that is the marker of success, I think it's even more important now that our leaders in the entertainment space demonstrate to communities that "I'm putting my resources, I'm putting my money and my time, I'm putting everything to bear" so we can all function and work together in building something that's going to create a new political reality for Black people. That's going to require a lot of us, not just those who have wealth and fame, but all of us, to strip ourselves a little bit of our ego and to truly commit to working together and building toward the common good. The common good may not be sometimes what you need right away. But if it's something that elevates everyone, we all have an obligation to work toward it. So I think if there's any message that we want to send, it's that we want everyone to be involved. And in fact we need everyone to be involved. We are looking forward to more people doing similar to what Mr. Combs has done, which using their platform to elevate the voices of those who are similarly committed to do the work and able to operate in their gift. And it's important for everyone to operate in their best gifts.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nov. 30, 9:06 a.m. Updated to include OBP's steering committee as co-founders.