March 30 was a seemingly insignificant day at Florida A&M University (FAMU). Unbeknownst to students on campus, candidate for governor and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, was welcomed by Sirius XM’s Urban View Voter Registration tour bus.
Gillum said that it was at his beloved alma mater FAMU, is where he learned what it means to truly compete.
“I was so used to being the only Black (person) in AP class and honors courses,” Gillum said. “Then I got here and everybody was the only Black (person)… We were no longer exceptional. We had to actually compete. And FAMU taught me what it meant to compete in the arena of campus life, but also in the arena of life.”
Looking at his political career, it appears that Gillum is always ready to compete and he continues to defy expectations at every turn.
While at FAMU, he served as president of the Student Government Association and soon became the first student member of FAMU Board of Trustees. At age 23, Gillum became the youngest person to be elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003. Eleven years later, he was elected mayor of Tallahassee.
As mayor, Gillum was able to institute such forward-thinking policies as Ban the Box, which abolished the criminal record question from most Tallahassee job applications, making it easier for hard-working people to secure employment. He also submitted an amendment proposal to the Constitution Revision Commission that would make healthcare a constitutional right for all Americans.
Now he has his sights set on becoming the first African-American governor of Florida, which makes his return visit to FAMU all the more noteworthy.
The handful of individuals lucky enough to catch wind of Gillum’s latest on-campus appearance were rewarded with unencumbered access to the mayor. Moreover, he took the time to create moments of casual conversation with every person he met.
And as he moved gracefully from one interaction to another, he bore a smile that was never short of purely genuine. This relatability appeared to attract not only voters but also the valuable members of his campaign team.
Tomas Acala, who was working as a government relations associate for Florida International University in Washington D.C., decided that he wanted to work on a political campaign.
When he came across Gillum’s campaign platform, Acala said that he noticed how closely it “aligned with (his) principles and beliefs.”
He was ”impressed by (Gillum’s) record,” but the deal was sealed when he saw Gillum’s campaign launch video and decided “that’s my guy.” Acala now works as both the schedule director and political deputy director for the Gillum campaign.
While Acala was busy working alongside Gillum, junior music student Richard Danford was trying to get his foot in the campaign door.
Danford’s family has been friends with the Gillum’s for years, so when asked what makes Gillum stand out from other politicians, Danford spoke from experience: “He’s genuine. He addresses everyone the same. (He) acts the same 24/7. (He tries to) get to the need of the people. Even if he fails, he keeps trying his hardest.”
Gillum’s care for people is what makes his policies and his dialogue uniquely bold and ambitious. However, many naysayers—and even some supporters—question the massive ambition of attempting to go straight from mayor to governor without taking the typical middle step of running for the Senate or House.
But Gillum is undaunted, affirming that his 15-year tenure in public policy-making establishes him as “the most qualified candidate on the democratic side.” He added: “And I’ll put my credentials against any Republican that we face in the general election.”