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Black Conservative, Former Apple Engineer Shares Journey on ‘Lonely Road’

John Gibbs is a Millennial who just graduated with a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard. Before that, he worked as an engineer for Apple after graduating from Stanford with an engineering degree. He is African-American and a conservative — a combination that has sometimes been what he calls “a lonely road.”

“I am the only conservative in my family,” Gibbs said. “And though I have many conservative friends of different backgrounds, my black friends and relatives do not agree with my political ideas.”

Yet Gibbs said many black voters seem to be in conflict with their own policy beliefs, a problem that has a lot to do with messaging.

“Data seem to show that even though about 30 percent of black Americans self-identify as conservative, they don’t vote Republican,” he said. “There’s very deep messaging within black culture that says ‘If you’re black, you’re a Democrat, and if you’re a Republican, you think you’re white and you hate your people.’ In fact, I was recently accused by a black person of hating myself because I identify more with Republicans than Democrats.”

Originally from Lansing, Michigan, Gibbs grew up in the outskirts of town in an area called Delta Township. Gibbs says he “grew up very liberal,” but after reading economist Thomas Sowell in high school — “which was groundbreaking for me” — he began to embrace the merits of capitalism and free market competition.

“This led me to investigate libertarianism, including reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as an undergrad, which was also deeply impactful,” Gibbs said. “During college I joined our conservative newspaper on campus, which gave me a set of conservative friends with whom to grow and explore. I am conservative because conservative ideas hold the best solutions to the biggest problems our society faces. Encouraging more market competition, reducing regulatory and tax burdens, and removing perverse incentives created by entitlement programs, will be more effective at solving our problems with healthcare, education, and poverty and lack of opportunity, than government-run solutions.”

“I am conservative because conservative ideas hold the best solutions to the biggest problems our society faces”

His family bought a computer while Gibbs was in high school. His natural intellectual curiosity led him to teach himself how to program and make web pages. He enjoyed the hobby so much that he decided to study computer science in college.

“I knew Silicon Valley was the place to be for software technology, and Stanford is right in the middle of the valley plus very strong in computer science,” he said. “Also, my mother always encouraged us to get good grades and shoot for the best schools. The combination of all those things caused me to apply for Stanford. And it turned out to be a good choice. The computer science major was challenging, but I learned a great deal that prepared me for my future career as a software engineer, and the proximity to Silicon Valley is what landed me my first job.”

After Stanford, Gibbs landed a gig as a programmer at Apple, what he called “intense, fast-paced, and a privilege,” working on the very first version of the iPhone, writing programs to test out the syncing of contacts and calendar appointments from Windows computers to the iPhone.

“We had very long hours and intense schedules,” he said. “Steve Jobs himself was heavily involved in the iPhone’s development, so it was not unusual for us to have to build new versions of the iPhone software and begin testing from scratch at late hours, because Steve himself found a bug he wanted fixed immediately.”

“One lesson I learned at Apple is that having a very strong leader can be effective when creating groundbreaking innovation,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs thinks racial minorities are under-represented in the tech field in part because of culture.

“It takes good grades and intellectual curiosity to make it into Silicon Valley,” he said. “But in many minority communities, getting good grades is seen as being ‘white,’ or nerdy, meaning many students choose to perform poorly in order to be socially accepted. Indeed studies have shown that the popularity of minority students among their peers decreases as their grades go up, which is the opposite of what is seen in white students.”

Another reason for the gap Gibbs cited is social networks — in-person networks, as opposed to the online variety.

“Many minorities don’t know anyone in their social circles that work for companies like Google or Apple, and therefore have no role model whose career path and way of thinking they can emulate,” he said. “And though most jobs are gotten through word of mouth and personal networks, many minorities don’t know anyone on the inside to submit their resume and help them get a job.

“One way to encourage greater involvement in the tech sector for minorities is radical innovation and disruption in education,” Gibbs explained. “I would love to see Google or Microsoft start a K-12 school from scratch in one of the poorest minority neighborhoods, and have them focus like a laser on rigorously preparing the students to be leaders and innovators in tech.”

“I would love to see Google or Microsoft start a K-12 school from scratch in one of the poorest minority neighborhoods, and have them focus on preparing the students to be leaders and innovators in tech”

After Apple, Gibbs lived and worked in Japan for several years, teaching social media and technology to churches throughout the country. From there, he realized how much about the United States that he loved and missed, and that experience built up a desire to serve Americans. This inspired him to study at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he joked that “some of the faculty and students at the Kennedy School make Bernie Sanders look conservative.”

“But faculty is strictly forbidden from letting their politics influence their evaluation of students, and I found they generally did well in this area,” he said. “And despite the very politically unbalanced nature of the school, I learned a tremendous amount that is directly applicable to my future plans, and formed some great relationships, so it was well worth it.”

Gibbs has publicly urged black voters to back Donald Trump, largely because of economic reasons.

“It was one phrase that put Donald Trump at the top of the race last summer and kept him there: ‘Build The Wall!’ I believe Donald Trump has a simple winning message consisting of three parts: America-first foreign policy, anti-illegal immigration, and pro-American worker,” Gibbs said. “Any other GOP candidate could have grasped these ideas and run with them, but unexpectedly enough, it was Trump who did. His message resonates with the hearts of many Americans and is generating a type of excitement and enthusiasm on the Republican side we have not seen in a very long time.”

Gibbs said Trump’s liberal positions on abortion, LGBT issues, Social Security and taxes may earn him support from independents and moderate Democrats who would normally not vote Republican.

“Black voters should support Donald Trump because of his position on illegal immigration alone,” he said. “The data shows that illegal immigration has increased unemployment, reduced wages, and even increased the crime rate, of African-Americans. I hope the Trump team can drive home this message to black voters. I absolutely do not support a third party candidate. Running a third party candidate is equivalent to wishing victory for Hillary Clinton, which no conservative or Republican can seriously consider. Republicans need to unify behind Trump.”

Fresh from graduating last month, Gibbs is determining his next move. Currently, he’s providing commentary in various national outlets.

“If the government is making our problems worse through bad policy faster than the good people are making things better, then we are in a losing battle. I am thus interested in building up America through encouraging smarter policy,” Gibbs said. “I plan to do this through being the actual person who creates and passes policy: an elected legislative official.”

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