Saleem Khalil Vanderpump had been enjoying a dream vacation in Ibiza, Spain, when a column I included him in hit newsstands in Philadelphia.
It was four years ago, but he still remembers how he started getting calls and texts from friends back home informing him that he was on the cover of the Daily News. A headline read: “Think Black People aren’t voting for Trump? Guess Again.” Vanderpump arrived back in Philly to all kinds of drama, including death threats.
“They acted like I killed somebody,” he told me. “I lost friends. I lost acquaintances. I lost business opportunities. I definitely paid a price.”
“It took a long time for me to recover from that," he added.
I felt bad about that.
Several months prior, he and I had been having lunch when he announced his plan to vote for Trump. That led to our discussing other African Americans we knew who planned to vote similarly. Later, after reading that pollsters were predicting that only 1% of African Americans would vote for Trump, I remembered our conversation and set out to interview local Black Trump voters.
I reached out to people I knew of, such as the late Renee Amoore, then a deputy chair of the Pennsylvania Republican Party; Daphne Jenkins Goggins, a ward leader and a longtime Republican; and some others.
As Election Day approaches, I’ve found myself thinking about that column and wondering whether any of the voters I interviewed had changed their minds about Trump. So, I started making calls.
Goggins, it turns out, is even more pro-Trump than ever.
“I’m voting for law and order," she told me Friday. “I’m voting for school choice. I’m voting for pro-God policies. The Second Amendment. I’m voting for Trump. Black people, we have to really wake up. I’m voting for my people."
Canvassing for the GOP in 2020 is easier, she said, because of Trump’s accomplishments, such as his moving oversight for historically black colleges and universities from the U.S. Department of Education to the White House and also guaranteeing their funding for 10 years.
A single mother I interviewed in 2016 didn’t respond to my requests to catch up. But I heard back from Laire, another Trump supporter, who asked that her last name not be used because of the negativity she experienced in 2016 after she disclosed her voting plan.
“I don’t want to be harassed. I don’t want my career in jeopardy over a vote. It’s nerve wracking,” she told me, adding that she lost a job opportunity and also was threatened on New York City’s Fifth Avenue on her way to Trump Tower after a man recognized her from a CNN appearance and said, “We should beat her a— now.”
At this point, Laire remains undecided.
“I’m leaning to Trump,” she said, adding that she was in Atlanta campaigning for the president on Friday. “I just wish he would have handled coronavirus a little better in terms of the mask situation.”
She said many of her Black and Hispanic friends feel similarly but don’t talk about it for fear of being shunned.
“That’s why I’m skeptical of the polls again,” Laire pointed out. “I feel like there could be another shock. People are very quiet. Even me, I was so outspoken about it before and now I’m just like, ‘Oh I might vote for Kanye.’ Or ‘oh I might vote for Jo Jorgensen.’ I just try to stay out of it and not say one way or the other.”
As for Vanderpump, his enthusiasm for the president began to wane in 2017 after Trump’s infamous “very fine people on both sides” comment when white supremacists clashed with counter protesters in Charlottesville, Va.
The founder of Bellargo Publishing now says, “He hasn’t been good for the country.” This time around, Vanderpump supports Joe Biden.
A lot can change in four years. Other things, not so much.