CLEVELAND (AP) — As the country wrestles with messy issues of race, discrimination and police tensions, Donald Trump received a commanding endorsement from a longtime employee who said she supports him not despite the color of her skin, but because of it.
Lynne Patton, a vice president in Trump son Eric's foundation, captivated delegates at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday as she spoke passionately of watching "in horror" in recent weeks as police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were gunned down.
So, too, she said, was the nation stunned by the "senseless deaths" of young black men whose killings by police have fueled growing bitterness between police and black communities.
"There's not one person in this room who can deny that historically, black lives have mattered less," Patton said. "My life mattered less."
Like it or not, Patton said, there are people in the U.S. who still believe that to be true. And in one of the convention's rarer displays of diversity, she extended a call for greater tolerance for gays and lesbians, insisting Trump was the one to make it happen.
"As a minority myself, I personally pledge to you that Donald Trump knows that your life matters," she continued. "He knows that my life matters, he knows that LGBTQ lives matter, he knows that veterans' lives matter, he knows that blue lives matter."
An apparent lack of diversity among Trump's senior staff has reinforced the perception that his campaign is oriented toward white voters who overwhelmingly fill his rallies. Though Trump insists that's not the case, the convention featured few examples of him or his party explicitly reaching out to racial, ethnic or sexual minorities.
Patton, who is Eric Trump's longtime personal assistant, has been deployed by Trump's campaign before to vouch for his record of hiring minorities and women. She wasn't listed as an executive in the Trump Organization until The Associated Press questioned the campaign earlier this year, after which her title was changed online to vice president.
Her voice booming through the arena, Patton paid special tribute to Eric and his sister, Ivanka Trump. She said she loves them "like the siblings I never had."
"You are compassionate, you are charitable, you are my heroes," she said.