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Here’s why I admire Sen Tim Scott – and why you should too

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I have always liked U.S. Sen. Tim Scott. I’ve met him a few times and we had a great time when he came to tour the construction site for my Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center on the South Side of Chicago. 

We have much in common – we both descend from that horrible America legacy of slavery, we’re country boys at heart born to single mothers, we’ve endured racism, and we live out in the open as Black conservatives.

But that’s not why I’ve grown to admire Tim Scott over the years – admiration can only come with the test of time. 

What I admire in him is neither grand nor sensational and that should surprise no one since Scott is a rather humble and disciplined man. He’s a worker, a doer and a believer. What I admire in the man is something that is deeply personal to me: he never uses his Black skin to his advantage.

This may seem insignificant to some of you or obvious to others – after all, we should live Martin Luther King’s dream where we are judged by not our skins but by our characters. But we have profoundly betrayed that dream.

We have all become complicit in exploiting our skins for the cheap thrill of power. I’ve seen Blacks do it all my life. And, in more recent years, I’ve seen Whites embrace their skins under the illusion it will help them fight these tribal wars.

But there is no mistaking that Blacks have been tempted to exploit their skin color for power or gains of some sort. It’s everywhere. Check the Black box and doors open. Cry racism on the job and settlements will likely come your way. And on.

As someone with Black skin, I always know that card is in the back of my head along with the temptation to play it. But I’ve resisted doing so because I know I’m far more than my skin.

I suspect the senator was raised in a manner similar to my upbringing. Be a man. Man up. Believe in yourself. I believe that is why throughout America’s deep dive off the cliff into angry tribalism, I’ve seen Scott conduct himself as a human first. Weaker people who’ve endured what he’s endured in his life would have fallen for the temptation of race.

When Scott was only 7 years old, he lived in a bedroom in his grandparents’ house along with his mother and an older brother. His father, a Vietnam vet, was not in the picture. His mother worked from dawn to 11 p.m. most nights as a nurse. It was Scott’s grandfather, a man who one picked cotton for 50 cents a day, who became his primary influence.

He would tell Scott, who was often teased as a boy, that he could be more than the circumstances he was born into. In the garden, Scott’s grandfather told him that the seed was of far more importance than the soil – ‘Given enough time, a seed will find its way through the hardest concrete.’

I tell that line to the kids in my neighborhood. They may not be country boys like Scott, but that message stays with them. Then I often tell my kids that Scott was a poor student and failed classes. He had to go to summer school and make them up. While on breaks between classes, he would visit the nearby Chick-fil-A and order what he could afford: waffle fries and water.

Yes, the future United States senator was that poor. But here’s the thing: Tim Scott kept moving. He didn’t have much fuel in his body or two nickels to rub together in his pockets, but he kept moving.

Then one day, the owner of Chick-fil-A took notice of Scott and started talking to him. They eventually became friends and the man told Scott about the business principles he used to succeed. These principles were Scott’s very first introduction to conservatism and I remember him saying, ‘I could think my way out of poverty.’

That’s gold right there. When I tell my kids that line, I’m putting agency, responsibility, accountability right into their hands. I may be showing them the way but I’m putting their fate into their hands.

I say all of this about his upbringing because I believe that is what grounded him and allowed him to believe in himself. That’s what is missing from so many kids today, that basic belief in themselves to go out, challenge the world, and make something of themselves.

Because guess what? When Scott started to go out into the world, make something of himself by running for student body president at his high school, he faced racism for his conservative beliefs, often from Blacks. Then at college, from Whites.

But Scott never lowered himself down to their level and played the race card. He always responded with his humanity, and that is the lesson I preach to my kids at every possible opportunity. And, personally, I know how hard it is to walk this unorthodox but true path and I feel less lonely when I look to Scott’s example.

Lastly, I tell my kids the reason that Scott has succeeded so high in life is because he believes in something higher and bigger than himself.

Too many Americans have lowered themselves into believing in a tribal identity of some immutable characteristics and the politics that come along with it. But not Tim Scott. He believes in Jesus and says, ‘My life is worthless without Jesus Christ.’ 

It is this belief, along with the belief in the power of our souls to be anything that we dream of being, that keeps King’s dream for all of us from dying.

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