The story of my life is not just some singular story about what one person does alone. My early life was a very difficult one. One of 12 kids, living in a three-room shotgun house in abject poverty in Louisiana at the height of Jim Crow. Most people assumed that it would be very difficult for someone to rise out of that. I have been helped along the way by so many people who believed in me. People have given me food. People providing support. People encouraging me, standing by me for all of my life.
In 1964, my church decided to provide a collection for the community kids that would go to college. They did it over a couple of Sundays, and after two, maybe three Sundays of people making contributions for the college fund, they had the big announcement. They collected a total of $37. Thirty-seven dollars. Wait a minute, it’s worse — for three students. We got, like, $12 apiece. And believe me, the church was proud that they accomplished that, and it was probably the largest sum that they had ever raised for the scholarship fund. Every person in that church believed and assumed that the three of us would be successful. And we all were.
When I was running for county executive, I recall one of the members of my church, an elderly lady, who is now deceased, came up to me and pressed $2 in my hand and said, “I am giving this to you.” Two dollars from her was what she thought and what she believed would help me become county executive. I tried to give it back to her, and she wouldn’t take it. I took the money and put it in the collection pot for church, but that memory just stands out for me because it reminded me of the $37. It connected the fact that, at that point and time, I had really achieved a great deal in my life, whether I would be county executive or not. When you see the pride, the expectations of people, that’s something which inspires you. Every time I reflect on that I get emotional.
People are constantly patting me on the back. I say, “No, the credit should really go to this community.” When I first ran for public office, I was very apprehensive, not certain of what the response would be. We had never elected an African American to a truly political position. I was so fearful initially that I wouldn’t put my photograph on the information that went out about me, because I wasn’t certain of the response. I wanted people to look at what I was saying and maybe discount race. I’m appreciative of the opportunity that they’ve given me. The people here looked beyond race; they looked at qualifications, experiences, where you stood on issues. They are very generous and open-minded, the folks here in Montgomery County. That’s a credit to the community.
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