There is no white Republican elected official today who is coming close to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's effort to reach out to black voters.
When the GOP opened an outreach office in Detroit, Paul was there. Earlier this month, he spoke about education reform to a group of African-Americans. Last year, Paul gave a speech at historically black university, Howard University, where he owned up to the party's failure to connect with black voters. And he has taken positions that have irked some in the GOP, including discussing voter suppression efforts and the failures of mandatory minimums in the criminal justice system.
What Paul is doing is not going to these venues and waving the GOP flag. He's raising issues that are in the wheelhouse of black voters and, at least, getting them to listen to his perspective.
Critics, namely hardcore Democrats, see Paul as nothing more than a charlatan trying to bolster his credentials in advance of a 2016 presidential run. OK, fine. Maybe that is the case. But black voters can't on one hand say Democrats take us for granted, and then when a white Republican extends his hand, we can't cut it off.
I've long maintained that the GOP is allergic to black voters. Instead of seeing them as constituents and potential allies, GOP candidates are uncomfortable in groups where there are lots of blacks, are quick to tout the GOP is the party of Lincoln that freed the slaves (please, stop with that!), and seemingly clueless about the issues black voters care about.
Paul isn't speaking before largely black crowds and saying, "I care about these issues, and what you care about, save it for someone else." No, he's doing what any smart politician should do with an audience that doesn't trust him or his party: Lay the issues on the table, find common ground, acknowledge the differences, and then get to work.
Look, the GOP's history since 1964 with African-Americans hasn't been good. The Southern strategy was clearly about appealing to whites and dissing blacks; way too many GOP politicians and party officials have made racially insensitive remarks over the decades, and black voters have been absolutely unforgiving.
Democrats have benefited greatly from that, and it has paid off for black voters. But ... that doesn't mean the Democratic Party can be maternalistic and paternalistic when it comes to the treatment of blacks. They know they need their votes, but Dems will sometimes take black voters for granted, knowing their options are limited.
There is nothing like watching a politician fight for your vote. Hispanics know this. Catholic voters know this. Even labor union voters know this to some degree.
Black America cannot afford to not listen to Paul and other Republicans. Public policy affects everyone, and not having a seat at the table is detrimental to your well-being.
The hard part for Paul will be for his voting record to match his rhetoric. A speech is one thing, but proving you are willing to stand your ground in opposition to others in your party is a good thing.
What Paul and other Republicans are doing is noble and right. They may not see a short-term boost from the outreach effort, but you can never cross home plate unless you get to first.
Roland S. Martin is senior political analyst for TV One and author of the book "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin." Please visit his website at www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.