Sophia Nelson became aware very early in life that race could impact how others treated her.
As a young, African-American girl growing up outside Philadelphia, Nelson recalled accompanying her white grandmother to a department store.
“People would look at us strange, like, ‘why is that white lady holding that little black girl’s hand?” said Nelson. “Somebody said something smart – I don’t know – racial. And my grandmother went ballistic. I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember that.”
Nelson is quick to point out that this happened in the 1970s — “a different world,” as she calls it. But during the course of our conversation, she shared her concerns about the many ways in which our country — specifically the GOP — has not changed.
“Look at the numbers in the Republican Party,” Nelson lamented. “They’re terrible for people of color and African-Americans in particular. It’s abysmal. It’s horrible. It’s embarrassing.”
Nelson went against the political grain in her family, who are lifelong Democrats, when she decided to become a Republican after meeting then presidential-candidate Jack Kemp in college.
“Kemp talked about the great legacy of Lincoln,” said Nelson. “He was talking about the importance of African-Americans in the history of the Republican Party.”
She went on, “He talked about pulling yourself up, but that government does play a role … he really wanted to empower African-Americans and people of color in a way that they had their own destiny in their own hands.”
As a lawyer, Nelson worked within the party for decades, on the legal and advisory teams of Christie Todd Whitman, Pete Wilson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Eventually, she said, she grew disillusioned. Her white peers, she explained, were given opportunities for advancement that she — as a qualified, loyal, woman of color — was never offered. When she voiced her concerns, she was labeled a “troublemaker,”…