Kellyanne Conway, please talk to your boss

Story highlights

  • Sophia Nelson goes way back with Kellyanne Conway; says Conway is sensitive to race issues, should tell her boss
  • She says Trump needs to know that people of color can't move forward with him until he shows them he understands their concerns

Sophia A. Nelson is an author and freelance journalist. She is a former committee counsel for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Her new book, "E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders' Vision for a United America" (Hachette) comes out January 2017. Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)I've known Kellyanne Conway for 25 years. Before she was the campaign manager who sent President-elect Donald Trump to the White House, she did the polling for my first congressional campaign in 1996 in our home district, New Jersey's 1st.

When I wrote my first book in 2011 — about redefining negative stereotypes of black women — Kellyanne ran the focus groups and polling. She saw and heard things that most white women -- and most white men, for that matter -- never get exposed to, and I believe it sensitized her and made her more aware of the struggle of race within gender.
My advice to her today: Don't forget what you have learned.
    Sophia A. Nelson
    I've been dying to tell her this directly; as you can imagine she has been hard to get to as she immerses in her new role. But talk we will, because we go way back. Our mothers brought us together; we attended law school at the same time. I was there on her wedding day and have celebrated the birth of each of her kids. Our birthdays are 12 days apart.
    Likewise, she has been a great friend to me during challenging personal times -- always a word of encouragement, and a kick in the pants if required.
    We both were brought up off of Exit 3 in Camden County, New Jersey. Two blue-collar, hard-working Generation X women. God-fearing. One of us black, the other white. We both became Republicans.
    Now that we have President-elect Trump, my friend is among the few who has our next President's ear. Kellyanne has been a focal point of the transition since the election and has had to manage a lot of controversy around race, tweets, Cabinet selections and more. If she continues to be a spokeswoman, as seems likely, she should consider a few things:
    The 2016 campaign was angry and divisive. But the aftermath has been even more so. We've seen videos with Trump supporters raising Nazi-style salutes, and plans for KKK celebration rallies in North Carolina. We've heard talk of white nationalism. Muslim registries. And we've seen the addition to President-elect Trump's closest inner circle a white man with a questionable past on race, treatment of women, and anti-Semitism.
    We need people who know better -- like Kellyanne -- to exert some influence here.
    What is next for Trump's campaign manager?
    Bash on Conway future_00010413


      What is next for Trump's campaign manager?


    What is next for Trump's campaign manager? 01:48
    She must use her position to stress to her boss that there is a reason why many Republicans of color have drifted away or, in some cases, been driven out of the party by clueless conservative whites who don't experience the world as we do and don't care to know about it.
    There's a reason the GOP doesn't do well among voters of color, black voters in particular (black women especially -- over 90% voted for Hillary Clinton) and why many people of color (Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants) are skeptical, even fearful of what a Trump administration may bring. To ignore the realities of tens of millions of us as he tweets and reels off inflammatory statements is wrong.
    We do need to come together, yes, and support the new President-elect but, Kellyanne, we need to deal with a few things first:
    1. It's not enough to say: "We won." Stop asking Americans to forget what Trump said during the general election about women, people of color and Muslims. We all heard it and it was offensive. We will move on when he apologizes and acknowledges he can and will do better. We the people want him to govern as the president of all the people. And stop taking subtle shots at protesters in the streets, journalists doing their jobs -- and engage proactively instead.
    Kellyanne Conway on Sessions (full interview)
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      Kellyanne Conway on Sessions (full interview)


    Kellyanne Conway on Sessions (full interview) 15:46
    2. Have Trump address the nation on the horrific and ongoing acts of white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and racism-- not release tepid statements that he "condemns and disavows." Get diverse spokespeople of color who know how to talk the language of connection and inclusion. Not just white faces who appear to deny the real fear that these kinds of incidents have raised.
    3. Don't incite and dismiss the people, listen to them. President-elect Trump must be willing to hear not just the voices of the so-called "forgotten" voters who voted for him who are mostly white, rural and suburban. He must hear also the cries of Black Lives Matter. Feel the heartbeat of undocumented immigrants fleeing to America under the cover of night for a better way of life. Understand the pain of Muslim Americans who love this country but are tired of being scapegoated.
    There is a pathway forward: It is the pathway of my long friendship with Kellyanne. Her ancestors were Irish and Italian immigrants. Mine were enslaved African-Americans. Yet, we have been able to see each other across our differences. We are friends -- sisters -- but there's a reason we still view things differently.
    Life is very different for black and brown people, and women of color in this country. It always has been. Kellyanne knows the differences. She told me once that she gets it. Now it's time for her to show it.
    My hope is that the Trump team will seek counsel from black people who have a strong footprint in their communities (not just a small cadre of black people who agree with their world view), and who can help Trump gain credible entry to those communities.
    Kellyanne must help the new President and his inner circle see that race and gender still play a huge part in how we experience life as Americans.
    It is time for Kellyanne to help take the blinders off Mr. Trump. It's his responsibility, not President Obama's, to help this country heal. I am extending my hand to Kellyanne, to Speaker Ryan (still Paul to me) and to the others who will now be leading the nation, to help guide us to a place of understanding, have courageous conversations that move us forward -- to reclaim our founder's vision for one, united America.