WASHINGTON — The 13-year-old Internet phenom who gained national attention criticizing President Barack Obama and briefly was a part of the Ted Cruz campaign is renouncing conservatism, saying he’s looking to be a voice unbound by party ideology.
CJ Pearson told CNN on Friday that concerns about the Republican Party’s viewpoints on racial and gender disparity as well as youth issues convinced him he could no longer be a mouthpiece for conservatism.
“I was tired of being a champion of a party that turned a blind eye to racial discrimination. Tired of being a champion of any cause that denies equal rights to every American. Tired of being a champion of a party that doesn’t care about the issues important to young people,” Pearson wrote in an email.
The 13-year-old, African-American YouTube star from Georgia said in an interview that he began considering the change after a conversation with another teen friend, who asked why he doesn’t speak out on racial discrimination — to which he replied he was concerned his followers wouldn’t be pleased.
“Over the past few days, I thought about essentially how I don’t want people to follow me because I’m that anti-Obama kid, or who called out Hillary Clinton or who took Bernie Sanders to task,” Pearson said. “I don’t want to be the conservative wonder kid that people follow because I make them feel good and like young people are part of their movement. I want to be followed because I’m the voice of a generation that doesn’t have a voice at the table.”
He said the video of Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a police officer in Chicago helped open his eyes to the systemic problems of racial discrimination in America and the need to look at the issues objectively.
Pearson was also the chairman of Teens for Ted and part of the presidential campaign for the Republican Texas senator, but separated with the Cruz campaign at the beginning of the month. Pearson said Cruz wasn’t doing enough for issues affecting young people.
The teen also was accused September of faking a screenshot that Obama’s account had blocked him on Twitter. Pearson admits he made a mistake and says he has moved on.
Pearson commands a YouTube channel viewed by more than 5 million and a Facebook feed with more than 100,000 followers.
He told CNN he plans to continue to be a social media presence.
“My generation is one of the most politically diverse ever, and I’ll continue to be a voice but one that looks at issues objectively,” Pearson said. “My views on the issues aren’t going to be dictated by one political platform or another.”
He also cited one his favorite targets for criticism, quoting Obama: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.”