FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
During this election year, we get a chance to see how political issues affect each state and affect African-American communities. So given that today is the New Hampshire primary it's time for a check in on a state where only 1 percent of the population is black. But we found two folks who can give us their insights.
Wayne Jennings is chairman and CEO of the New Hampshire Cultural Diversity Awareness Council. He's a Republican. And Wanda Mitchell is vice provost and chief diversity officer at the University of New Hampshire. She is a Democrat.
Ms. WANDA MITCHELL (Democrat; Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, University of New Hampshire): Well, thank you.
Mr. WAYNE JENNINGS (Republican; CEO and Chairman, New Hampshire Cultural Diversity Awareness Council): Thank you very much for having me on.
CHIDEYA: So let's jump right in here. According to the Census bureau, there are just over 1.3 million people in New Hampshire. That means there's just about 1,300 black folks in the whole state. So first of all, we're really glad we found you.
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CHIDEYA: Wanda, what are the roots of the black population in New Hampshire?
Ms. MITCHELL: I think they come from various areas of the United States. There's definitely Southern roots and Midwestern. And many came to the state because of the military Pease Air Force Base and the naval shipyard.
CHIDEYA: So let me go to you, Wayne. When you think about New Hampshire, do you consider it liberal, conservative, moderate?
Mr. JENNINGS: I would say moderate. And well, it's moderate, but it starting to lean towards being a little bit more liberal. When I came here, it was very conservative. There was no such thing as civil unions. And now, that bill has passed, the state is starting to become more and more liberal.
CHIDEYA: When you think about the fact that you're a Republican, one thing that's come up recently as people look at Iowa and New Hampshire is the idea that Iowa is a place where Republicans tend to be social conservatives. New Hampshire is a place where people tend to be fiscal conservatives. Do you find that's the case?
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, you look at how the state government here is run. They're very, very tight, lean and mean. State reps here, I think, it pays about $100 a year whereas you look at some other states, Iowa, because I don't know what's the salary is for state reps up in Iowa. But I'm sure it's significantly more than what is paid to the state representatives here in New Hampshire. And that's just how things are run here.
CHIDEYA: Wanda, you're working in diversity in the university context. What does that mean? I mean, when the state is - has so few African-Americans, so few people of color in general, what's the population at the university? Is - are there more a higher percentage of students who are black, Latino, Asian, Native American than in the state population? And what do you do to try to foster understanding?
Ms. MITCHELL: Well, our student population, undergraduate and graduate, is about 6.3 percent so that definitely exceeds the state, you know, percentage. What we do in - at the university is that we try to practice and try to have strategies and initiatives in place that will make this a welcoming environment, not only for racial and ethnic minorities, but for all of our members of underrepresented group at the university.
Now, is this a challenge? But one thing I think we recognize at the University of New Hampshire is that we're not competing for this excellence through diversity by looking at our state demographics. We are competing nationally and internationally for the best and brightest minds as (unintelligible) our students, our faculty and our administrative staff.
CHIDEYA: One of my favorite moments was being in New Hampshire for the '96 campaign and Chris Rock was doing a little bit of commentary for Bill Maher and he was doing a stand-up out in the cold and he said, I'm in New Hampshire and I can say with absolute certainty that there are no black hair care products in New Hampshire.
Ms. MITCHELL: That is incorrect.
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Mr. JENNINGS: If - you have to search hard to find them. But they are available.
Ms. MITCHELL: They are available. And, you know, those are some challenges that we face coming here. You're talking about issues. It's not on the political -professional perspective but on personal. Where to go to get your hair style? Where do you go to hear a fully - a full vocally gifted gospel choir? Those are some of the challenges and questions that I asked once I got here. And also, around the housing community, looking at the composition of the neighborhood, but also affordability, the cost of living is quite high in this northern New England state. And then, that impacts our ability sometimes to recruit and retain diverse faculty and administrative staff.
CHIDEYA: Wayne, I'm assuming that you enjoy living in New Hampshire. Certainly, you've got a great job, and I'm sure you've got a lot of positives in your life. But there is a story that you know of about a friend who is a state trooper in New Hampshire. Tell me that story.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yes. Well, 10 years ago, this state trooper was driving his cruiser on one of the interstates here. And then, he gets a call and the dispatcher asked him if he was okay. And he said, sure, I'm okay. And then, she said, are you sure? And he said, yeah, I'm fine. And then she said, well, we got a report that there's this black guy driving a cruiser and we thought one of the cruisers was stolen. And she - so then he was spotted. Well, guess what? That's me.
Ms. MITCHELL: Hmm.
Mr. JENNINGS: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: Did - was he bitter after that? Or how did he take it?
Mr. JENNINGS: No. He just recognized the fact that it had to do with, you know, lack of exposure, and the fact that it's a rarity to see a black law enforcement officer here in New Hampshire. And by the way, I ran into the same thing also. I'm a volunteer firefighter in my town. And in terms of emergency services, there's only two of us here in the state, myself and a professional firefighter over in Delaware. And I can't begin to tell you the number of times when people have given me looks when I responded to a fire and I was operating the pumps, or somebody had come up to me not too long ago and said, you know, you're the first black person I've ever met, and I just want to tell you what a great experience it is, and you really have changed my attitude. And I said, oh, this is interesting. So that got me thinking.
CHIDEYA: You're like a little ambassador. Does that annoy you?
Mr. JENNINGS: Well, it used to, but now I understand it. And I'm glad that I did create a positive image rather than them having a negative image. And one of the things that I do is I do my best to recruit and encourage other black professionals to (unintelligible) in New Hampshire, and the reason for that because they bring something to New Hampshire. They can help with economic development. Bring their professional skills. The kind of people that I don't want to see come in here are the criminal element, the kind that will - that just live off with social services. Those are kind of people I don't know want to have come in here because they reinforce a negative image.
CHIDEYA: Well, one of the…
Ms. MITCHELL: In our state where there's no taxes because I don't think the people who would benefit from welfare or social services would find New Hampshire being a welcoming and embracing state because there would not really be resources available for them.
Mr. JENNINGS: You know…
Ms. MITCHELL: From my perspective, I guess it's a little different because in higher education, just a matter of three years ago, the university system hired its first African-American woman college president at Keane State. And I saw that is really a move in the right direction, and the system recognizing that leadership comes from all perspectives, educational backgrounds, experiences and cultures. And I thought that was a very positive move.
Mr. JENNINGS: Absolutely. And Wanda, just to add to that, I like to see more of that. I like to see the same school districts that give their kids that they offer(ph) Martin Luther King, the - take the initiative to go outside New Hampshire or go the University of New Hampshire, recruit higher and retain African-American school administrators, teachers and especially school superintendents. There's never been one hired here in the state from…
CHIDEYA: Wayne and Wanda, we're going to have to wrap it up there. But we're really glad to have your perspective on. Thank you so much.
Ms. MITCHELL: Thank you.
Mr. JENNINGS: Okay. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
CHIDEYA: Wayne Jennings is chairman and CEO of the New Hampshire Cultural Diversity Awareness Council. And Wanda Mitchell is vice provost and chief diversity officer at the University of New Hampshire. Both talked to us from New Hampshire.
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CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us.
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NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
Tomorrow, the results of the New Hampshire primary and the mortgage crisis threatening your public services.
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CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.