Kendrick Meek has been politically involved throughout his entire life.
“He came to me when he was running for president of Young Dems of Florida and said ‘I know you’re a Republican but I want you to help me write a speech,’ ” said Sharon Wooten, retired director of the Florida A&M learning development and evaluation center (now CeDAR).
Congressional candidate and Florida A&M alumnus Meek, 44, is one of the most talked about candidates this midterm election season. According to kendrickmeek.house.gov, he was first elected to public office at the age of 27 and is currently serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida’s 17th Congressional District, which includes Northern Miami-Dade and Southern Broward counties.
Although Meek has spent most of his adult life working in politics, his foundation in public service crosses generations. Meek’s mother, Carrie Meek, retired from U.S. House of Representatives and is the first African-American elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction. She feels strongly toward education and is known for fighting for the betterment of our communities.
“Floridians need a senator who will stand up for their interests — not corporate special interests. I am that leader and will fight hard for all Florida families during my time in the senate,” said Meek.
Yolanda Cash Jackson has known Meek personally for over 16 years; she has also served as his campaign manager.
“I’ll never forget: we were in D.C. and he just gave me an assignment,” said Jackson about her first time working with Meek on the “The Vote is your Voice” registration drive of 1996.
“I was like I don’t even know this guy. But if you know Kendrick, he’ll put you to work. People need to understand that he is a visionary,” said Jackson. “That’s the kind of leadership required.”
Eric Parker, a local businessman and Meek’s line brother of the Upsilon Psi chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., agrees.
“He always set his own limitations,” said Parker. “That’s just how Kendrick works.”
Meek’s critics often attribute his political success to his mother, but people who know him disagree.
“He works really hard, and he does it all on his own,” said Jackson.
Carrie Meek always believed her son would do great things, but it was not always easy for him.
Meek decided to attend his mother’s alma mater after all his siblings went to other universities.
“I said ‘Mama, I’ll go,'” said Meek. “FAMU was the best thing that ever happen to me.”
In high school, Meek discovered he was dyslexic. At FAMU Wooten designed and developed a program for dyslexic students like Meek.
“He would call me his white mama,” Wooten said.
Wooten calls Meek one of her greatest success stories. But his success was a hard-fought battle.
“I almost had to threaten his life when he first came to the program,” said Wooten jokingly. “I learned that if you give the student what they want and what they need, the disability doesn’t matter.”
The program consisted of testing students, altering learning styles and teaching to their strengths helped make Meek into the “polished” person he is today said Wooten.
“That’s the thing about love,” she said. “When a lot of people tell you it’s impossible, you can show them you can learn and that you enjoy it.”
Wooten also worked with Meek in the “Excellence with Caring” club in the late 1980s. The small organization was established for student advocates, according to Wooten.
In 1987 Wooten presented her two-year-old program to the state legislature to spread to all Florida colleges and universities. At that time the legislature declined.
“Kendrick got the club together and it went from 20 to 250 students,” said Wooten. “They dressed up and they went over to the capitol to rally for the program.”
That year the program was established in all Florida schools and received government funding.
He was a Que, the son of a congresswomen, a high profile Rattler football player who lived in Paddyfote most of his college career.
“When you’re playing football on scholarship, doing stuff in the frat plus all the other things he had going on, you can make a lot of mistakes,” said Parker. “Kendrick didn’t make those mistakes.”
“He would come to school with a button-up shirt, a briefcase and cleats; now that was Kendrick,” said Wooten.
Meek is trying instilling those values into his children, Lauren and Kendrick Jr.
Jackson and other friends said Meek takes fatherhood very seriously and always makes time for his kids.
Meek likes to take his son fishing at Lake Okeechobee, according to Jackson, who is also Kendrick Jr.’s godmother.
“You know — It’s tough missing important things in my children’s lives or fun family events while I’m traveling across Florida,” said Meek. Who sees his sensate campaign as an extension of what he really believes. “I’m inspired by the stories of families who are doing their best to overcome the difficult circumstances that the recession has thrust upon them. That’s who I’m fighting for in this senate race, and that’s who I will fight for in the senate.”
Although Meek said the winning the senate seat would be a sacrifice for his family, a senate seat will not change him.
“He calls me every Mother’s Day,” said Wooten. “He always says the nicest things and I keep it on my voice mail all year.”
“Outside of all the glitz and glam, Kendrick was never one of those people you had to talk to, to know,” said Parker. “He’s a good friend, you know he’s always there.”
Meek is involved in an historic U.S. Senate race. If he wins, he will be the first black senator from the south since Reconstruction.
“This campaign is about Florida and standing up for Florida’s middle class,” said Meek. “For me, this race is not about which campaign has the most cash. It’s about the fight against big developers and corporate special interests on behalf of everyday Floridians. That’s been my focus since day one and it’s a message that’s resonating across the state.”
Meek faces tough competition from Republican candidate Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running as an independent.
“Marco respects Congressman Meek and considers him a friend, but disagrees with him that more government spending, more debt and higher taxes are going to create jobs and get our economy back on track,” Alex Burgos, a spokesman for [Marco] Rubio for Senate said.
Meek has watched two black legislators defect to Crist. But his biggest concern is the expected low voter turnout in November.
“No one has been as competitive, no one has raised this much money. How could we not go out and vote,” said Jackson.
Meek said right now he focused on the senate race. While Meek’s associates said they could see him running for president one day.
“I remember when he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Denver,” said Jackson of the 2008 event, “even then I knew we were on the cusp of something great.”