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Ben Okereke’s Turning Point in politics on campus

Georgia State student Ben Okereke took the stage in front of Turning Point USA’s Young Black Leadership Conference on Oct. 4. Next to him stood President Donald Trump. 

Okereke thanked him for helping the black community with three things: the lowest unemployment ever, criminal justice reform and taking down the “fake news media.”

Okereke is something of an outlier: He is the president of Turning Point’s Georgia State chapter, a self-described “nonpartisan,” a Cameroonian immigrant and an Army veteran who served four years as a field artillery specialist. 

Before Turning Point, he still struggled with finding an organization that was his best fit.

The Student Government Association was his starting point, as a senator for the College of Arts and Sciences. His most controversial campaign was an effort to have straws provided in dining halls in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through reusable cups. 

“This is like a health issue because you don’t know what people have, especially here in Atlanta. So why won’t [SGA] protect [their] students?” he said.

Okereke feels that his crusade spun into a debate over HIV stigma. 

“They asked how are you going to help more? How are you going to provide health care or whatever for [HIV carriers]?” he said. “This is not something that I came here for. I came here to talk about straws.” 

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After attempts with involvement through SGA and the College Republicans, Orekeke was driven to start a new chapter for Turning Point USA at Georgia State, serving as the organization’s president.

Turning Point USA, which was founded by conservative Charlie Kirk in 2012, describes itself as an organization with a mission to build the most “organized, active and powerful conservative grassroots activist network on high school and college campuses across the country.” 

Okereke felt as a self-identified independent that it was an inclusive organization, despite its claim to conservatism.

“We take ideas from the left and the right, something that we think will help people,” he said.

On their Instagram, the Georgia State chapter members have signs that resemble conservative talking points with a “millennial” appeal. They say, “Don’t Tread Bruh,” “Socialism: Ideas So Good That They Have To Be Mandatory” and “CONSERVE-ative” with a globe surrounded by the recycling symbol.

Unsurprisingly, the chapter on campus has experienced tension with students, according to Okereke.

“We were tabling and people come up screaming, ‘F— you, you f—— fascist.’ We don’t let it get to us,” he said. 

Met with this aggression, Okereke thinks it stems from misunderstanding. 

“We don’t take it the wrong way. The truth is that most of them don’t know any better,” he said, using guns as an example. “We don’t believe that everyone should be running around with a gun. That would be crazy.”

Okereke believes the Democratic Party has “taken advantage” of the black vote. He lists three things that keep black and Hispanic people “dependent and loyal” to the party: abortion clinics, welfare and alcohol. He also feels that they are funding wars in the Middle East.

Okereke describes a tension in the black community that makes it hard to choose between appreciating Obama for what he represents but critiquing the president for “broken promises.” He also said that Obama committed “a lot of impeachable offenses.”

“Obama shows that we came a long way. But you know, he didn’t do [anything] for black people,” he said. 

Okereke is passionate about immigration reform.

At the same time, he thinks that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program recipients and that most of the people trying to cross the border should get a path to citizenship. However, he still feels that a wall is necessary.

“If someone has been here for the last 10 years, obviously you can’t just drop them off and say, ‘Okay, well, figure it out,’” Okereke said. “We should find a way.’” 

He says he’d like to see two people speak on Georgia State’s campus: Candace Owens, the creator of “Blexit,” a movement created to encourage black people to leave the Democratic Party; and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA.

Regardless of the space he is in, there’s one thing Okereke strongly believes in. 

“Facts don’t care about your feelings. I mean, it’s not what [Trump] said or how he said it. I look at who’s making things happen, who’s helping people and especially, who’s helping black people,” Okereke said. “Trump — I think he has helped a lot of black people so far, so we should give him credit for that.”

Turning Point USA has faced controversies in the past on other college campuses and with its key supporters.

In 2018, a conservative radio talk show host and Turning Point USA board member Joe Walsh resigned following Kirk’s attachment to Trump, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Members of Turning Point USA have also argued for free speech on campuses that sought to silence some of their actions, such as at DePaul University that prevented them from posting fliers mimicking the “Black Lives Matter” logo, replacing the wrods with “Gay Lives Matter” in reference to Jamie Kirchick, a guest speaker, at DePaul. The speech was titled “Dicatorships and Radical Islam: Enemies of LGBTQ Rights” and the Turning Point USA members argued that their poster was reflective of the Black Lives Matter movement’s poster, according to The DePaulia.

Within the inner workings of the organization, some minorities within it spoke out against allegeded racism and discrimination in the workplace, according to The New Yorker.

These events, coupled with protests against liberal ideologies and professors, have pushed Turning Point USA into controversy’s spotlight. The guests Okereke hopes to bring to campus, such as Kirk, have also been engulfed in that same controversy due to their ties to conservative players like Trump and Fox News.

Will Solomons contributed to this story.