THE BIG TALK
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
Kendall Qualls believes that decades of well-intentioned social and economic policies have decimated Black families, weakened Black abilities and limited Black goals — arguments largely unheard in racial justice debates over the past half century.
“You never heard this from Republicans without a lecture,” he said. “The Republicans don’t know how to go with the heart. My wisdom has been received from fathers, mothers and grandparents, and we didn’t used to live like this.”
In January, Mr. Qualls founded TakeCharge, whose website says it aims to counter “the prevailing narrative in popular culture that America is structured to undermine the lives” of Blacks. He and his nonprofit group have taken that message on a barnstorming tour of Minnesota this week in response to unrest over police killings of Black men, sometimes violent protests and efforts to defund police forces.
TakeCharge has teamed with the Center of The American Experiment for the 17-stop tour dubbed “Raise Our Standards,” which primarily aims to speak out against the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools.
“We acknowledge that racist people exist in the country, but explicitly reject the notion that the United States of America is a racist country,” the TakeCharge website states. “We also denounce the idea that the country is guilty of systemic racism, White privilege and abhor the concept of identity politics and the promotion of victimhood in minority communities.”
Mr. Qualls, 57, cites his own life and experiences as proof. His parents divorced when he was a child, and he and his siblings grew up in poverty with their mother in New York’s Harlem section, where street violence was not uncommon.
“I’ve been called everything from a ghetto kid to trailer trash,” he said.
Nonetheless, he completed a high school ROTC program and, at 19, was commissioned as a junior Army officer. Much later, he served as an executive with Johnson & Johnson and other medical supply companies, and he ran unsuccessfully for a House seat.
Mr. Qualls, who lives in Minneapolis, acknowledges that his odyssey is atypical, but he is convinced it is less fairy tale and more the American dream. TakeCharge is founded on the idea that the death of that dream, rather than a hostile and racist society, is the real calamity befalling young Black Americans.
As the group puts it, “TakeCharge will ignite a transformation within the Black Community of the Twin Cities by embracing the core principles of America — not rejecting them.”
It is not his accomplishments Mr. Qualls wants to stress but the journey. In other words, the qualities that allowed him to be successful were bred in him as surely as the notion that not everyone was thrilled with the prospect of Black success.
“Up to 50% of Black kids in Minneapolis don’t graduate from high school,” he said. “And this is because the Democrats here won’t allow mothers’ school choice and they won’t allow a discussion on the rate of fatherless homes Black kids are growing up in.”
Consequently, “faith, family and education” is the core message of the Minnesota tour harpooning critical race theory.
Mr. Qualls said he wants to reassure parents who fear social blowback should they oppose the idea.
“People see critical race theory and its progress, and they think, ‘What can I do?’” he said. “They don’t want to be embarrassed, and they know the script is, ‘Oh, if you’re White, you’re a racist.’ But you can pull your kid out of school, you can remember that you are the one funding these schools.
“You’re going to have to do something a little bit out of your comfort zone,” he said.
Mr. Qualls even embraces some of the rhetoric of critical race theorists. He said he hopes the “Raise Our Standards” tour and TakeCharge will “recruit trainers who will be catalysts for change.”
He also wants to teach a different history, one that asks: “How do we get back to what we were?”
“I think we are living off our grandparents’ fumes right now,” he said. “It’s as if the pilot light has been put out and we need to light it again.”