The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) first Black chairman told an audience at the annual meeting of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network that the RNC wants to help the Black community—but said that community must also rely on itself instead of government handouts, saying that dependence has stifled Black progression.

According to the Associated Press, Steele told those present that the GOP wants to assist those in need—a claim immediately questioned by some in the crowd.

“The Republican National Committee wants to bend down and help,” Steele said, according to the AP, causing several in attendance to shout, “How?” and “Not the Tea Party!”

In his speech, Steele called Sharpton—historically, no friend of the Republican party—a “friend” and lauded him as a “strong leader,” according to the New York Daily News.

Steele also referred to slavery to encourage Blacks to own their own businesses, saying “I want to own, I don’t want to be owned,” he said.

Other leaders at the National Action Network convention, which was held from April 14 to April 17, discussed topics ranging from politics and education to religion and civil rights.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said there is a 25-year gap in health care services between Whites and minorities and that she is developing a national plan to end the problem.

“I’m here to say that’s going to end this year,” Sebelius said, according to the AP.