Asked about promoting diversity in North Carolina, a candidate for the state House said it's not something he needs to talk about — because he's lived it as "a member of the African-American community."
Gary Shipman, one of three Democrats hoping to challenge Republican Rep. Holly Grange in a House district in New Hanover County, told the crowd at a park in Wilmington on Sunday that he has empowered members of the gay and black communities through his work as an attorney and official in the Democratic Party.
"I'm a member of the African-American community," said Shipman, who is white. "I've been where you are. I've been in your communities."
Moderators of the event, "Suit up Wilmington Outreach," asked candidates how they hoped to promote inclusion and "enthuse African-Americans" about their campaigns. Shipman, an attorney who lives in a Wilmington house valued at $638,000, said he was responding to remarks made by Leslie Cohen, another Democrat in the District 20 race.
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Cohen, an artist, said she has tried to listen to and amplify the voices of the African-American community.
"Invite me and I will come," she told the crowd. "Invite me to your churches and community groups, to whatever events you have. And to the extent that I can use my privilege to raise you up, I will do so."
Shipman, in response, told the crowd that "people don't have to invite me in to the African-American community" because he's already a part of it.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the NC Republican Party, said "the rhetoric is off-putting," but "the Democratic voters of House District 20 will have to decide if he shares their values and represents their community.”
Reached Monday, Shipman said he understands why some might misconstrue what he said but clarified that he's not black and never claimed to be. But he doubled down on the claim that he's part of the black community, adding that "other members of the African-American community" see him that way too.
Shipman cited his work as an attorney, as a party official as well as personal relationships.
"I’ve eaten at many a fish fry held by my 'brothers' and 'sisters,' 'aunts' and 'uncles' in that community; I’ve celebrated birthdays, births, marriages, graduations, Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4, etc., with many members of the African-American community," Shipman wrote in an email to The News & Observer.
"There are people within that community and elsewhere that refer to me (and treat me) like their 'brother' or 'pops' or 'uncle', and I refer to them (and treat them) like my 'brothers', 'sisters' and children," he wrote.
"Like other members of my family, many members of the African-American community have called me in the middle of the night when someone was sick or to come help them or some other member of their family, and I’ve responded — because they are my family," Shipman continued. "Three years ago, when an African-American kid who I had known since he was born had his last parent die, I took him into my house for his final year of high school, helped get him ready for college, and just like I would one of my own, 'pushed' him out into the world to make his own way.
"I don’t see color, I see people; and not because I’m running for the NC House either — I’ve talked the talk and walked the walk for many, many years," he said.