Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Sonnie Johnson, the CEO and inspiration of Change the Game(ctghq.org), the new website and activist program launched by the David Horowitz Freedom Center that sets out to expose the failure and racism of progressive policies and to use hip hop culture to reach constituencies previously untouched by conservative messages.
FP: Sonnie Johnson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Johnson: Thank you for having me. I have the feeling this will be the first of many.
FP: You have great intuition!
So let’s begin:
What is Change the Game all about and what inspired you to create it?
Johnson: I never wanted to start my own project. I wanted to bring my talent to projects that currently exist, and I tried. It wasn’t long before I realized if I wanted to do something different, if I really wanted to change the conversation, I was going to have to do it myself.
Plus, there are a lot of black conservatives holding on by a thread. They are one Bundy Ranch, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown story away from leaving the conservative movement. We’ve lost some really great advocates already. They say they don’t have a home on the conservative side of the aisle. I wanted to provide that home.
FP: Why has hip hop and its constituency been so insulated from conservative messages? Why have so many conservatives been insulated from hip hop?
Johnson: Excellent question. If both sides asked themselves and answered honestly, we could actually have an honest conversation on race and culture.
In my very first “political” speech, I did a comparison between Jay-Z and Ronald Reagan. I took quotes straight from Reagan and mirrored them to lyrics by Jay-Z. I thought I was nailing my political coffin, but I wanted people to see we are saying the same thing. Every Tea Party speech I’ve ever given has hip hop symbolism or direct quotation. When conservatives don’t know the message is coming from hip hop, I get standing ovations.
When talking to lovers of hip hop, I don’t focus on blacks and social conservatism. While issues of black marriage, abortion, and protection of religious rights are important to me, I understand a single mother of three is more worried about not having her lights cut off than any of those issues.
If I want to talk to the hip-hop generation about inflation, I talk about my recent trip to the grocery store. If I want to talk about energy independence, I focus on the price of gas and the rise in electricity bills. If I want to talk about limited government, I talk about the heavy police presence and heavy taxation through the ticketing process.
I don’t believe in utopia. We may never get on the same page and speak the exact same language. Damn it, that’s the purpose of a republic. We don’t have to like the same music, the same movies, or arrive at our principles by taking the same road. We just have to respect each other enough to fight for our freedom. After that, you do you and I’ll do me.
FP: Why has there been a one-party monopoly of black voters for so long? Why has this monopoly occurred and what are its consequences?
Johnson: If I were your average black conservative, this is where I would start to blame the Democrats. I would regurgitate how Democrats formed the KKK, started Jim Crow laws, and are the real racists. And I would be telling the truth, but I would still be highly ineffective in changing any minds in the black community.
There is a one-party monopoly in the black community because the Republicans don’t show up. They spend more money on polls and studies about engagement than actual engagement. When approached with fresh ideas (yes, I’m talking about you, Reince), they continue with the same tired policies of the past.
In this 2014 cycle, there is no real black engagement because the polls are calling for a Republican sweep. They don’t need the black vote. Having said that, I see you, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul. If the Republicans don’t want to listen to me, then they should at least follow the moves of some of their own.
Progressives were able to destroy the Republican legacy on civil rights issues because the Republicans weren’t there to defend it. Your average Republican starts every conversation with “Reagan said…,” like Reagan started the Republican Party. They only claim the party of Lincoln when trying to dismiss calls of racism.
Most Republicans don’t know the history of the Republican Party. They know the history of Ronald Reagan. How do you sell and defend a legacy you don’t know?
FP: To be sure, progressives wear the mantle of caring about black Americans, but the historical record and empirical reality tell us quite a different and disturbing tale about the earthly incarnations of their ideas. Expand for us on what progressive policies have actually done to minorities and the poor in the inner city.
Johnson: Wow, that question makes me want to give a highly historical answer. Or maybe biblical.
What I do best is make it about the people because those are the real victims of progressivism. Growing up, I never knew I was poor. I had three meals a day, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and a loving family unit. My mother made me go to church and had very high expectation for my education. I didn’t know we lived below the poverty line.
Things start to change when people start telling you what you can’t do. Your parents say no to the latest trends due to financial restraints. Teachers tell you what you can’t do because of societal constraints. Your pastor tells you what you can’t do due to biblical restraints. Your race tells you what you can’t achieve due to racial constraints. More and more laws tell you what you can’t do because of criminal constraints. And no access to capital, training and financial education. What is left?
That’s when you get, “F–k the world!” As Wale would say, “If a young n—er can’t dribble, can’t rap, can’t act…he ain’t got no options.” That’s what progressivism breeds: a society of zero options. They want you to turn to government, but blacks, especially black males, have refused. They would rather enter the drug game and risk their life in the streets or behind bars than living under the thumb of government dependency.
People think young black males sell drugs for the money. No. They need the money to escape their current situation. They want to live a life not held down by the constraints of progressivism. Until conservatives take a money message, a true money message of capitalism, free markets, and entrepreneurship into the inner cities, they will progressively move towards further socialization, death and destruction.
FP: And so now we come full circle back to Change the Game, because you are all about using hip hop to help pull people out of the inner city trap and prison created and enforced by progressive policies. You have noted how hip hop, including gangsta rap, represents the rediscovery of the individual and how it complements the conservative message and the American Dream. Rappers like Ice T, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, as you have pointed out, are individuals who embody the capitalist reality and message. Enlighten our audience about this reality and how it “changes the game.”
Johnson: First, I love that you used the word “trap.” Hip hop created that word to describe a street corner or hustle location. We know it’s a trap. The more it became a part of our vocabulary, the more it started to include public housing as a whole. I always want to point out that progressivism built those traps. Progressives wanted blacks all in one place to create a supply of workers. Now they value blacks as a supply of voters. That’s the real trap.
When Dr. Dre released “The Chronic,” he was cemented in hip hop history. It will always come up in conversation about the best hip hop albums ever. Recently, Dr. Dre sold his company Beats by Dre for over 2 billion dollars. I’m guessing if you ask Dr. Dre about the greatest decision in his life, it would be deciding to be a businessman instead of just an artist.
We are constantly talking about the failing school systems in America. If you care about the issue as more than just a talking point, then understand what it means for the kids having to come up through that failing system. The progressive public school agenda tells them America is unfair because they are black. They believe the nonsense.
Hip hop has become a vehicle to uplift a portion of black society. In addition to the artists, there are promoters, dancers, backround singers, bloggers, reporters, bookers, stylists, makeup artists, DJs, and the list goes on on; all getting paid from hip hop. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry nationwide. It all started at neighborhood parties and out of the back of car trunks.
Hip hop is Capitalism 101. Find a service that needs to be filled. Produce a product. Introduce it into the marketplace. Work hard to have the best product in the market. Receive financial success. They weren’t taught the basics in school, but they had no problem figuring it out naturally.
Hip hop artists today have taken it a step further. They own their labels, the rights to their music, the studio where they record, a clothing line, a brand of vodka, shoes, purses, perfumes, and even water. They have broken the progressive dogma of zero options.
What I want to do with Change the Game is move that same influence and drive towards all forms of industry. Science, math, electronics, and technology are the future and we aren’t preparing our kids. While hip hop is proof capitalism works, we can’t stop at having only music, sports, and Hollywood as access points out of poverty.
Listening to 50 Cent say, “If I can’t do it homie, it can’t be done” while trying to find the cure to cancer; to me, that’s “changing the game.”
FP: Let’s focus in on you for a moment. Sonnie, can you share with our readers a bit of your own background and journey? Tell us about your upbringing and youth. You were also once a Democrat. How did you ultimately find yourself on the conservative side and then as someone who, as a black American dealing with the issues confronting the black community, wanted to change the game?
Johnson: I always wish I could say, “Two parent home. Stable upbringing. Move on.” Every time I tell my story people look at me with such sympathetic eyes. Like I must need a hug. No. My past didn’t break me; it made me.
My biological mother was addicted to drugs when I was born. She couldn’t take care of me. So, I went to live with my father. He was still running the streets and he couldn’t take care of me, either. That’s when I was given to my adoptive mother, my Angel.
I traveled between my mother in public housing and my father in a country house with no plumbing. I was eating government peanut butter one day and picking tomatoes off the vine the next. One night I’m going to sleep to the sound of gunshots and the next night I hear a thousand crickets at once. I had a very interesting childhood.
When I was 10, someone reported my mother to social services. Since I wasn’t her biological daughter, I was no longer allowed to live with my family. Everything I had ever know was taken away from me in an instant. (You know, the progressive zero options model.) My mother made me go to church, do my homework, and volunteer in the neighborhood. With my father, there were no rules, no guidelines and it didn’t take long before I started running the streets.
I didn’t stop running until I was diagnosed with Crohn’s at 17. Even then, my run became a jog; drinking, smoking, and partying all night. My illness kept me in check because I was constantly in the hospital but I had basically given up on life. Finally, I decided a scar on my stomach would be worth removing the pain and constant trips to hospital (yes, I suffered a year and a half because my vanity didn’t want a scar).
After six weeks of healing, I went to visit my friends, and they were right where I left them. They were all smoking, drinking, and having a good time. For the first time I thought there has to more to life than this — within 24 hours, I left Richmond. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
My transition to conservatism started with another progressive zero options formula. Doctors told me for years I would never be able to get pregnant and if I did, I would never be able to carry full term. God thought differently. It’s why progressives hate Jesus and want him out of the public arena. Nothing crushes what you can’t do like believing in the great “I Am”; through the Son, all things are possible.
The day I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, my adoptive mother was called home to be with the Lord. That was the day my life changed. I fell on my knees and turned my life back over to God. And I promised my mother I wouldn’t try so hard to give my daughter the things I didn’t have that I would forget to give her the things I do have.
I had to ask myself some tough questions. How am I going to teach my daughter how to manage money when I barely know myself? How am I going to teach her about the laws of the land? Who will be her role model and what do I know about that person?
By the time my daughter was ready to go to school, I had given myself a stay-at-home mom education. I knew how to balance a budget and the cost of living outside your means. I understood the necessity of protecting and defend your home. All the lessons mothers learn when starting a family. But I also taught myself to run a website, web code, and some basic design. I read history, outside of the progressive context, and was introduced to Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Maggie Walker.
I started DidSheSayThat.com and it’s been a hell of a ride ever since. At first, I didn’t know I was conservative. I didn’t understand what the term meant. If I didn’t seek the information, I never would have made the transition.
Looking at the black community, I always humble myself. I understand these lessons aren’t being taught in schools, in churches, in groups of friends or circles of acquaintances. I always remember myself at 17 and all the things I didn’t know.
I don’t hold judgment against someone’s past; especially due to a lack of information or the knowledge that the information exists. I will, however, judge harshly those that know the truth, but choose to ignore. My journey to conservatism started with a hard knock life education, that’s where Change the Game starts the conversation.
FP: Booker T. Washington is a central figure in your vision, and the last person the Left wants to talk about – or say anything good about. Why?
Johnson: In 1912, the Tuskegee Institute graduated more self-made millionaires than Harvard, Yale and Princeton combined. Booker T. Washington exposed a truth progressives don’t want you to see. Fortunes are built by doers with intellect, not intellectuals.
When Washington first started Tuskegee, he was surrounded by former slaves. Now that they were freed men, they believed they should no longer have to work hard. Manual labor was now beneath them. Washington told them, “Now that you are freed men, you have to work twice as hard because you are now working for yourself.” If I asked you to break down conservatism, could you do it any better with one line?
Booker T. Washington advocated a money message. “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence.” It’s why I skip the social issues and focus on the pocket book.
Booker T. Washington understood progressives and their position in racial tension:
There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the negro race before the public. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs. There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well.
Which is why I don’t put a focus on Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. With Change the Game, I want to celebrate all the beauty in the hip hop culture while simultaneously trying to fix some of the issues that plague the black community. I don’t pretend blacks don’t have some legitimate grievances. The question is, do you want them solved or do you want to keep the civil rights lifetime job security in-tact?
But one of the greatest facts about Booker T. Washington is that he was actually born a slave. If you think about the modern civil rights movement, they are living off the souls of slavery, the lynchings of Jim Crow, and the water hoses of their parents and grandparents (not referencing those that actually suffered the abuse). They travel first class on their flight, have a car waiting at the airport and stay at a five-star hotel; all while screaming how unfair it is for the black man.
Booker T. Washington didn’t think about fair or unfair. He only considered results. If history repeats itself, I pray for another Booker T. Washington age in black America.
FP: What are some of the strategies you will utilize to change the game? You have stated that one of the crucial things to do is to win hearts within the black community by talking about the issues that matter to them — in terminology that resonates with them and that they can identify with. I think we can fairly say that conservatives have been a failure in this regard up till now.
Johnson: I don’t want conservatives to come out with a rap song, “Can’t we all get along,” with a remix by Karl Rove. Actually … never mind.
I like Ayn Rand, so I hate contradiction in my world. I stand beside people who yell, “Protect the Constitution,” “Don’t tread on me” and “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Mention hip hop and they turn into progressives that would run every lyrical artist out of the country. Then these same people talk about the Left’s hypocrisy when it comes to the First Amendment. Check your own backyard first.
But what really pisses me off is when conservatives take a shot at hip hop but don’t want to defend their position against another conservative who likes hip hop. I’m not calling him a conservative, but Bill O’Reilly instantly pops into my head. He does a talking points memo about the “thug culture” in black America and brings on Beckel and Carville to check him where he’s wrong. Seriously? Then for a different perspective, he brings on a black progressive that dodges every question or a black conservative that agrees with his every talking point.
Bill O’Reilly has gotten Jessica’s Law on the books in over 45 states, but every talking point, race conversation, or serious attempt to change the focus of discussion towards healthy families, thriving communities, and a first class education falls on deaf ears. Every issue becomes an “us vs. them” battle to the death.
Especially with O’Reilly, everything is the fault of hip hop. I will give O’Reilly credit: He has tried to have a conversation with the hip hop community. Camron and Lupe Fiaso are the two interviews that pop into my mind, but I’m sure there have been others. But he invites them into a hostile environment where they are in a defensive mode instead of a conversation mode. They are expecting a fight with Bill O’Reilly.
I’ll just throw this out there. Bill O’Reilly, if you want to stop wasting your breath having the same conversations and getting nowhere, maybe you should Change your Game.
BET recently ran a biopic look at hip hop in America. Obama was included in this three-part mini-series as a lover of the hip hop culture. (I’ll pause here for the right side of the aisle to insert a snide remark out loud or under their breath.) When the right thinks about hip hop culture, they think about what progressive radio has shown them. Every hip hop song isn’t about shaking your ass, pop, lock and drop it, selling drugs, or taking another human life. If you think it is, that’s why I left the pause especially for you. I’m never going to win you over and I really don’t care.
The easiest part about Change the Game is it is effortless. All I have to do is be me. I’ve a built a team around me; Kevin Daniels, Pudgy Miller, Tracy Connors, Javonni Brustow, Kira Davis, Tezlyn Figaro, Nadra Enzi and Chidike Okeem, and for them it’s effortless as well. We all care about the people more than we care about the politics or politicians. We aren’t looking at a single election or election cycle. We are in for a long-term Renaissance in black America; starting with winning the hearts of the people.
FP: So you gonna change the game?
Johnson: My presence here shows God is faithful to his word. I will continue to pray for wisdom and strength, and by the Grace of God, we will Change the Game.
In Jesus’ Name Amen.
Sonnie Johnson, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
And thank you for changing the game — and we wish you the best in achieving it!
Johnson: Thank you.