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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rock Hill's Marvin Rogers Makes NPR News

Even though this is a little political, I believe it is good to share when one of Rock Hill's citizens makes the national news. Click here to hear the story.

S.C. Republican Pins Hopes On Urban Blacks

Conservative activist Marvin Rogers (right) prepares to spar against Jason Mobley in Rock Hill.
EnlargeMelissa Cherry/The Rock Hill Herald

Conservative activist Marvin Rogers (right) prepares to spar against Jason Mobley in a boxing program for inner-city teenagers in Rock Hill. Rogers mentors youth groups as part of his work as a community organizer.

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December 15, 2009

There are some things about Marvin Rogers' political profile that may sound a bit familiar. He's an energetic African-American leader, a charismatic speaker — and he talks about returning civility to politics.

Ask Rogers what he does in the urban neighborhood where he lives, and he describes himself as a community organizer.

"I don't mind being called that," said Rogers, 33.

"A community organizer is this: When you don't have groceries and you can't feed your kid, when your house burns down and you don't have any place to go, the person that you call is a community organizer."

But unlike the former community organizer now in the White House, Rogers is a staunch conservative who's trying to spread Republican orthodoxy where it's rarely heard: among minority groups in the inner city.

"I am a Spanish-speaking African-American conservative who is trying to grow the party," he said.

On the day NPR visited Rogers, he was helping lead a boxing class for teenage boys in Rock Hill, S.C., a one-time mill town not far from Charlotte, N.C. In a dingy public gym, he both boxed with the boys and talked with them about their lives.

"You can apply the discipline that you learn from fighting in the ring to fighting to make good grades, fighting to make a living for yourself," he told them in his pep talk.

Rogers says he spends time at busy community centers like this one as part of his commitment to humanitarian work. He also served several years with an evangelical charity in Latin America.

But his community service dovetails with his political aspirations, as well. He's been a liaison to a Republican congressman, and now, as Rogers works to get elected to public office himself, he's trying to come over as a new kind of conservative.

"Especially as a Republican, we just seem so out of touch," Rogers said. "And I am not that type of Republican. I'm a Republican because I don't believe in abortion, and I like my taxes low.

"But I also like to box, listen to rap music, and I've changed the perception of the Republican Party in this urban community."

Rogers says there's a lot in the GOP platform that can appeal to African-Americans — even in this neighborhood, where President Obama last year won 80 percent of the vote.

Rogers advocates Christian values and says entrepreneurship, rather than welfare programs, will lift people out of poverty. And his presence in the community has persuaded some Democrats to at least listen to his message.

Latoya Mayes, who heads the nonprofit group that runs the boxing program, said, "Marvin is the only Republican who I've ever seen interacting with the youth here.

"He's actually gained a positive relationship with their parents. You know, they're wondering who this Marvin guy is."

Still, that hasn't translated to political success. In Rogers' only run for public office — a state legislative race last year — he lost overwhelmingly to an African-American Democrat.

His opponent, State Rep. John King, calls Rogers pretentious, and more interested in getting his name in the paper than serving the people of Rock Hill.

"The perception that people in District 49 and York County have is that he is out for self-gain," King said. "The difference between Mr. Rogers and me is that I don't brag about the things that I do."

Undeterred, Rogers plans to run again next year; in the meantime, he has self-published a book and gone on the lecture circuit throughout South Carolina.

At a luncheon last week, Rogers faced a different audience from what he typically encounters in the inner city. He talked to a mostly white crowd of Republicans in one of South Carolina's wealthiest areas: the resort town of Hilton Head.

"A lot of African-Americans and Hispanics, they turn on conservative talk radio and conservative TV and say y'all sound mad," Rogers told the crowd.

"We must be civil in the way we communicate, because at the end of the day, the American people won't follow fussers."

South Carolina is a state where Republicans are especially eager to find new faces, to help get past the embarrassment of Gov. Mark Sanford's personal indiscretions.

Still, Rogers faces a daunting task as he tries to make a name for himself in the GOP.

Not only must he persuade minorities to consider voting Republican, but he also needs to win support among Southern white conservatives in a place where no African-American has been elected to statewide office in more than a century.

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