If Charleston hopes to effectively compete within the global economy of the 21st century, then it must forge together as one force. And the battleground for the presidency of the College of Charleston provides us the stage to seize this opportunity.
Friendships with proud Confederate flag flying Southerners — people I have had political, business, or personal relationships with — taught me to judge a person by his or her actions, and also, that we can get more done together than working apart. It should not matter that one is a veritable supporter of Southern heritage if that same individual's actions show him able and willing to work with diverse groups.
It will take a diverse group of people to move the college forward to where we will maximize its potential in developing research and impacting Charleston's local economy. Glenn McConnell has proven he is willing to take the lead on diversity issues despite his staunch support of Confederate history, and he has the political and corporate relationships necessary to implement his vision of the College of Charleston becoming a premier research institution.
I had a personal experience with the Confederate flag that caused me to reevaluate my view of the people who wear a symbol that so many associate with race hatred. I remember walking up to the Music Farm to meet a friend who was a manager at the music venue so I could book the space to promote a reggae concert. I noticed his truck proudly displayed a Confederate flag license plate. I was taken back. I mean this was my main man. We had history. We've laughed, shared stories, and broke bread at the table of friendship. I had to question him about the contradiction.
He explained that the symbol to him was one of Southern pride. He was proud of his family's history. He was proud of the values he was taught by his family — looking out for your neighbors and that family matters. He was proud of the cultural mainstays of his Southern heritage such as the dialect, music, and the food. I realized sitting there, that he was the same guy I had called a friend before I saw the Confederate flag on his F150.
This was one of many examples where I learned to judge a man by his actions, which opened me up to limitless possibilities in the realm of relationship building. I believe both my friend and Lt. Gov. McConnell are cut from the same cloth. They are proud of their Confederate heritage, but that doesn't prevent them from building friendships with diverse groups of people or from building partnerships to deal with issues of diversity.
McConnell's history of working on issues of diversity refutes his opposition's primary claim. The opposition to his bid for presidency can be summed up in a quote taken from The Chronicle: "Glenn's staunch support of the Confederacy prohibits him from working on issues of diversity." However, his work to make sure historically black colleges and universities in the state were not left out of the allocation of lottery education funds serves as a strong counter argument. When members of the Black Caucus, led by former Sen. Robert Ford, came to him with a report stating these HBCUs where the only viable options for a vast number of black students in the state, McConnell did not respond by saying his love for his Southern roots prohibited him from assisting. He worked to ensure they received funding.
When Black Caucus members called on him another time on the matter of increasing the amount of black judges, led again by Ford, McConnell responded with positive action, using his influence and power to increase the number of African Americans on the bench.
The same can be said when the Clemson based program "Call Me MISTER" called upon him to advocate for its support. The program recruits and trains African-American men to become teachers in some of our worst performing schools. This program is how I became an eighth-grade English teacher. McConnell saw a need to eradicate a 50 percent dropout rate for black males in this state, and this job development and training program was a viable solution.
Since it's clear that McConnell is an able and willing partner on issues of diversity, why not use this as a favorable opportunity to productively engage diversity issues such as increasing minority student enrollment at CofC (it's currently at 6 percent), increasing minority business procurement, or developing an African-American studies major? McConnell has already stated that tackling these issues will be a priority, and he has a track record to prove he is not all talk. Working together, we can accomplish much at CofC over the next decade.
The next president chosen will provide the vision for the college over the next decade. The former Senate Pro Tem is the finalist whose publicly stated that he is a proponent of developing my alma mater into a world-class university research system for the Charleston area, and he has the political relationships to see this vision to reality. University research promotes local economic growth and development. It attracts industrial laboratories and high-tech startups and offers competitive advantages to local businesses. McConnell understands that Charleston's economy is not just competing with economic regions within our state, but the entire Southeast as well. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill generates $767 million annually for its local economy. Locally, a partnership between the City of Charleston and MUSC has produced an office building that houses businesses born out of university research. This was done because of the visionary thinking of Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and former MUSC President Raymond Greenberg. It's time for the College of Charleston to have leadership that fully grasps this economic potential for our region. McConnell will be able to leverage years of built up political capital to make sure CofC has the full support of the General Assembly and South Carolina's private sector.
As a proud alum of the College of Charleston, I believe McConnell is the right man for the job at the right time, as we prepare to position ourselves as leaders in the field of research and in developing solutions to diversity challenges. He will not be able to accomplish this alone however, and Charleston will need all groups to rally behind one vision to reach our zenith. He has shown he will take the lead in working on issues of diversity, and we as a community should seize on this opportunity to develop an agenda in partnership with his office if he is so chosen to lead the College of Knowledge. He is a Charlestonian, and a product of the college. He will fight for the CofC and Charleston in a way no other candidate can.