I have made up my mind wherever I go, I shall go as a man and not as a slave. I shall always aim to be courteous and mild in deportment toward all whom I come in contact, at the same time firmly and constantly endeavoring to assert my equal rights as a man and as a brother.”- Frederick Douglass
By: Stacy Swimp
I am a proud American who just so happens to be of African descent (I am the great, great, great, great grandson of Peter Adams, who was an African Slave on a South Carolina plantation). I am a black man who does indeed embrace the absolute best of the values of my ancestors and I have learned from the mistakes as well.
I am, furthermore, a Black man one who finds utter disgust in the absolute moral surrender of millions of Black Americans today, who, unlike Frederick Douglass and unlike my ancestor, Peter Adams, have no personal experience with chattel slavery or Jim Crow and, thus, have no excuses for not fully embracing the responsibilities of American citizenship. I am, therefore, compelled to write a personal testimony, that I might demonstrate that in today’s America, if we, like Frederick Douglass, make up our mind that we shall, wherever we go, go as a man and not a slave, there are no permanent boundaries around us, that we do not place around ourselves.
My story begins in Charleston, S.C., where I was born to a single mother of three. My father was a married man whose wife could not bear children. As you can see, I was born into “drama”. Unable to care for me, my biological mother gave me to my father and his wife, signing away all rights and, effectively, setting my life on a journey she would one day come to regret, in her own words.
My father was a military veteran of 21 years. His wife, who raised me as her own, accepting her husband’s infidelity, was a passive woman who I recall substituted in my elementary school and, for most of her life, has dedicated herself to the education of children. However, in this home, there were many problems. Alcoholism, domestic violence, denial, and abuse and neglect of the internal nature (I never went without physical needs). Somehow, a child who, by the age of 4, was on a first grade reading level, would, beaten down by the weight of the aforementioned dysfunction and self hatred, one day find himself functionally illiterate.
In the Black community, there has long been a culture of “hushing” children who have been molested, as we pretended that only white men did such a thing. At the age of eight, I was molested by my mother’s brother. In response to my experience, my family rejected me and defended my assailant. I was further pushed into emotional isolation and, moreover, virile hatred of those I once trusted. I became disillusioned even towards God, though I had been raised in the Catholic Church and was certainly present, by the will of my grandmother, every Sunday morning at mass.
This young person who so loved school entering kindergarten, no longer had the desire to learn. At least not what they were teaching in the classrooms. I had lost my dignity. Lost my sense of direction and had no one in my life that seemed to notice or care. By the age of 12, I was attracted to the subculture of the streets of Virginia where we had recently moved from Texas. I dropped out of school in the 8th grade to pursue this insane fantasy. No one came looking for me. I found myself in juvenile centers on several occasions by age 15. By the age of 25, so far removed from the positive early formative years and its learning, I found myself facing life in prison for attempted murder. A senseless and selfish crime of passion. Like many who have been brainwashed by victimology and blameology, I honestly thought, at the time, that even this was not fully my responsibility.
I entered the Department of Corrections with no skills, no purpose, no sense of identity, and most of all, no concept of personal accountability or responsibility. I had no knowledge of God and no reason to want to live, by my own account. Then something miraculous happened.
A retired Conservative Police Chief, who was a volunteer for “Forgotten Man Ministries”, came and witnessed to me. I will never forget thinking that “he must be gay”, as I could not fathom what “this old white dude wants with me”. Unfazed by my ignorance and spiritual blindness, this man eventually led me to a confession of sin, repentance from dead works, and faith towards God. He became my first mentor. Over the course of the next thirteen (13) years of incarceration, I, like Frederick Douglass, remade myself, by “luck, pluck, and gifts.” I chose to overcome functional illiteracy and eventually became a para legal in the system. While there, another man came along who would impact me in a way that will forever be the defining moment in my life, politically. His name is Gary. He was an elderly Republican from Gaylord, MI.
Gary was a guard in a camp who saw something in me. He took a chance on me and risked his job to sneak in a book for me, “It’s OK to Leave the Plantation”, by Mason Weavor. Mason Weavor’s book “got in my face” and challenged all the social values and concepts I held on to for dear life. It taught me that I had indeed been a slave in a manner far worse than the walls of the MDOC. My mentor, Gary, said that he saw in me someone who would one day lead in an unprecedented manner, if I would have the courage to be true to the calling he believed God had on my life. He told me that the Republican party was the party of Frederick Douglass and that he believed I, in many ways, could be a type of Frederick Douglass, in the 21st Century GOP. I thought Gary saw more in me than I did myself at the time.
A short time later, I was released. I found myself immediately living in a homeless shelter, with no community ties, no job skills, and no resources. I did, however, have a few important tools: an uncompromising faith in God, a vision, my Mason Weaver book, and a determination that I would never again be a slave to blame, guilt, fear, bitterness, and excuses. I also had a few words my heart carried, “If no one will help me, I will help myself and then I will help someone else. If no one will make a job for me, I will make a job for myself, and then I will make a job for someone else.”
While in the shelter, I volunteered daily, whenever not looking for a job. I never told anyone I was in a shelter and never once borrowed or complained. I immediately joined a local church and in three weeks, I had an apartment. Within a year, unable to land steady employment, I created an limited liability company six months later and began getting speaking engagements for myself to talk about how to overcome a troubled past. I bought a new car within that same six month period.
The next year I met another mentor, Jimmy, a conservative from Saginaw, MI. Jimmy invited me to join his group, The Great Lakes Bay Region African American Leadership Institute, from which I graduated and later advised. In this group, I began meeting Republican leaders from across Mid Michigan who did not see in me “an ex con”, but a leader. They did not want to hear any excuses or woeism. They only wanted me to do what I said I would do and be where I said I would be. Among this group of leaders and mentors where Rep. Ken Horn, County Commissioner Ann Doyle and many others.
Over the next several years, I would go on to be the keynote speaker at the Dow Chemical Company and Dow Corning’s Regional MLK, Jr. Celebration, win a Frederick Douglass Service Award given by an affiliate of an National Black Women’s organization, create a successful Juvenile Justice non profit sponsored by The Dow Chemical, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, McDonald’s of Outstate Michigan, The Johnny Burke Foundation, and The Saginaw Community Foundation.
I would go on to join the Republican Party, because I believed then and I believe now that the Republican Party is still the party of Freedom. It is still the party that offers Black Americans the best opportunity to be self reliant and to rebuild the wastelands that have become the legacy of the Democrat leadership in distressed black communities over the past 50 years.
I became a graduate of the Saginaw County Vision 20/20 1000 Leaders Initiative, a 2010 graduate of Leadership Saginaw, a valued member of the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce Leadership Alumni Association, and a member of the first Board of the Young Professionals Network of the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce. Most significantly, I would become the leader of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Michigan (FDFM).
After reading my story, I am hoping that one thing is crystal clear. It doesn’t matter what obstacles we are born into or what mistakes we have made in our lives. We can, by means of repentance from dead works, faith towards God, personal responsibility and self determination, turn our humble beginnings and failures into stepping stones to success. Not one has an excuse. Not one has someone or something to blame for not being a voting, participating and productive citizen of the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.
In closing, contrary to the woeism fostered by a Democrat platform that has miseducated three generations of Black Americans into thinking that the government and educational system is responsible for the embarrassing, high levels of illiteracy, violence, abortion, single parentage, disease, and despair so pervasive in distressed Black communities, we find ourselves where we are because too many of us have not, like Frederick Douglass, arrived to conclusion: “I have made up my mind wherever I go, I shall go as a man and not as a slave. I shall always aim to be courteous and mild in department toward all whom I come in contact, at the same time firmly and constantly endeavoring to assert my equal rights as a man and as a brother”