Located just minutes away from the U.S. Capitol in northern Washington, DC, Howard University - one of the nation's oldest black colleges - offered the perfect opportunity for Kentucky Senator and 2016 hopeful Rand Paul to test out the Republican Party's new message of "Growth and Opportunity."
Since President Barack Obama's reelection, in which he carried 95 percent of the black vote, Republican party leaders have sought to convey that not only does the GOP want to be the Grand Old Party, it also wants to be the party of the young and less fortunate.
"Some have said that I'm either brave or crazy to be here today. I've never been one to watch the world go by without participating," Paul told Howard's students. "I take to heart the words of Toni Morrison of Howard University, who wrote: "If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
And while Paul spoke to a packed house, the message from attendees at Paul's speech Wednesday was clear: We're willing to listen, but don't expect us to change our party affiliation anytime soon.
"I don't think he changed any minds," one student said, noting that Howard has a tradition of allowing controversial figures speak at their university in order to get a broad range of viewpoints.
"I came here because I'm a very open-minded person," Jazmine, a junior, stated. "And I'm excited about the way I hope the GOP will do its thing in the future because I think that they're on the right track," she added. However, she said she did not think that Paul was the right person to spread the GOP's message of tolerance given his questionable position on the Civil Rights Act. (An issue he tried to resolve Monday, claiming that he has "never waivered" in support of the legislation.)
Jazmine and several other students said they also took offense at the Senator's attempts to educate them on the GOP's role in the advancement of African-Americans and pander to them by quoting Toni Morrison and notable Howard alums - all of whom were black. At one point in the speech Paul asked the students if they knew that Republicans founded the NAACP. The audience was visibly taken aback and audibly expressed shock that Paul would have the audacity to ask the predominately black audience a question about black history.
"This is Howard University. We know the history of the Republican Party. We have to take political science. I should have brought my book. That's in the first chapter," Jazmine said.
The outspoken college student admitted that there was nothing Paul could have said or done to change her mind about him or the Republican Party and was unable to give an example of someone within the party she'd be more likely to listen to.
"I feel like no one has really taken a step in that direction" her friend, Evelyn, chimed in, saying she would be more likely to take into consideration a speech by someone "genuine," unlike Paul, who she said should have owned up to his previous statements about the Civil Rights Act.