Traditionally, people in my predominantly African-American community have been Democrats. In fact, I've been voting Democrat for over 28 years. But after this strange and long election, it's time to revisit our longtime loyalty to the Democrats and take inventory to see our gains and losses.

We have examined and reexamined our relationship with the Democrats, and we discovered that we have a misplaced loyalty to this group--perhaps we need to change. So a group of ministers and I are traveling to Washington, D.C., in mid-February to meet with Republican leaders and see if the Republican Party is the new breed of leadership we've been in need of. If they are the breath of fresh air we hope they'll be, we are prepared to register as Republicans.

As we listened to this sermon of surplus and prosperity being preached throughout the campaign by Vice President Al Gore, many of us truthfully wondered what he was talking about. We are still faced with many of the challenges and hardships that hold our communities back from prosperity--most notably the scourge of drugs and the increase in drug trafficking during recent years, plus the deplorable and unaffordable housing conditions in our community. We are still the last hired and the first fired (unemployment and underemployment), and the welfare-to-work program is fraught with abuse and fraud. We need a leader to take an interest in the issues that are germane to our everyday existence.

This is our mission--to help President George W. Bush change the wind of destruction to a new wind of freedom and justice for all. When we stepped outside of party loyalty and took a closer look at Bush, we saw an opportunity for change and progress under this new leader. We see him as a man of respect and one who can change our country's path, from compromise to compassion.

Perhaps the new administration, for example, will police TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families--the welfare system), specifically the Child Care Initiative program. We also need affordable housing to replace the demolition that's presently taking place. President Bush, stop the destruction of public housing that is happening without building decent and affordable housing as a replacement for poor citizens.

Our gas prices for both car and home are escalating daily. Someone needs to suggest that perhaps oil wells here in our own country should be tapped into for usage. George W. Bush is doing this, arguing that domestic oil over foreign oil should be an option to lower fuel prices. We know some people worry about the environmental implications of this oil exploration, but the immediate needs of our community are more important at the moment. Bush needs to make sure that the environment is considered and protected, but perhaps he can do this and still provide some financial relief to people in our community who are suffering under the high fuel costs.

There also needs to be an overview of the criminal justice system that summarily jails African Americans wholesale with no regard for the young men who are rehabilitated. When there is no recidivism, and the crimes are not heinous, there should be some assistance programs to keep these young men out of prison. The penal system has become a mega-million-dollar industry using my brothers and sisters as supply and demand. Let's build more schools, not prisons. We need a leader who will bring about change.

George W. Bush, who in Texas has supported prison ministry groups that have decreased the recidivism rate through the power of prayer, may well be that leader. But before he can truly make a difference in prison reform, we're asking President Bush to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. Our country cannot be sincerely committed to rehabilitation of criminals if putting them to death is an option in our legal system.

You see, if you take away economic stability, jobs, housing, and construction, and replace these with drugs and unemployment, you are setting up our communities for destruction. Let's get away from a glorified image of prosperity in this country and focus instead on the unglorified reality that we are leaving too many of our people behind. If we do this, how can we not support George W. Bush, who has established an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to further cooperation between government and faith-based groups. I hope he will focus on the grassroots, the small churches that have been left out of the mainstream and cannot provide badly needed social services without some government assistance.

Bush realizes that he will reach more people by getting programs set up in smaller churches. After all, there are a lot more ants then elephants in the world. And we believe that the elephant, the emblem of the Republican Party, can only benefit by including the ants in their work. I am very hopeful and encouraged by both Bush's words and actions--not the least of which is the fact that he came around during the campaign to poor communities in Chicago, areas that Bill Clinton didn't visit in either 1992 or 1996.

Let's give George W. Bush a chance to lead this nation in a different direction. I have read that he prays a lot, and I know that can only make him a better leader. People who are more in tune with their spiritual side and make a concerted effort to do things like pray every day, these people are going to come into some compassion and consideration for what's really happening in our country.

Make no mistake, our support of Bush will not stop us from challenging him on issues that are crucial to our community. But we know that he's in a position to do something about these issues, and we're hoping to benefit from his spiritual appetite for prayer and compassion.

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