Three African Americans are among the 13 special guests who will join President Trump for his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
“This year’s guests come from all different walks of life, and each has an incredible story to tell,” a White House statement said. “No matter their background, each one has something important in common: They represent the very best of America.”
President Ronald Reagan started the tradition of inviting guests to the annual event in 1982, according to USA Today. Since then, the guest list has been one of the most watched aspects of the speech. The guests are typically selected to highlight themes or policies that presidents seek to promote.
Matthew Charles was the first prisoner released under the First Step Act. He was given a 35-year prison sentence in 1996 for selling crack cocaine and other related offenses. Trump is expected to tout passage of the First Step Act, which passed in December and aims to reduce the number of incarcerated people, as an example of his desire for bipartisanship. While criminal justice reform advocates applauded the measure, they want real reform that goes much further. Despite the passage of the act, Black people continue to be victims of racial bias in the criminal justice system.
Alice Johnson is also on the list. After serving more than 20 years in prison for a first-time, non-violent drug offense, Trump granted her clemency in June 2018, following a meeting he had with Kim Kardashian.
The president is also expected to boast about the robust national economy and how much he improved the economic lives of Black people. That may be the reason he chose to invite Roy James to his speech.
James is vice president of the Vicksburg Forest Products lumber facility in Mississippi, where he worked for 26 years. The facility was expected to close but ultimately remained open for business. The Trump administration says the lumber mill is an example of how opportunity zones created in the 2017 tax cut bill can encourage businesses to invest through tax breaks.
Critics have noted that the economic recovery began under President Barack Obama and that racial disparities in the falling unemployment rate, which Trump likes to boast about, continues.