This is an excerpt from a longer paper published in Domestic and International (Dis)Order: A Strategic Response, the Aspen Strategy Group’s annual policy book that was published in October 2020. Senator Tim Scott generously contributed the first chapter of the volume and his piece titled “Race in America” can be read in its entirety here. The full policy book is also available for download.
Race in America
By Senator Tim Scott
The odds are that three-word phrase made you feel an immediate, emotional response. For some, it may bring a sense of discomfort, for others anger and frustration, or perhaps even hope at the progress we have made. As 2020 has shown us, where we stand as a nation lies somewhere in between all of those feelings…
From Cotton to Congress
My belief in this nation comes from my own family’s story. My grandfather was born in a little town called Salley, South Carolina, in 1921. As a child, he had to cross the street if a white person was walking toward him. To help provide for the family, he dropped out of elementary school to pick cotton.
Eight decades later, at the tender age of 91, my grandfather watched on television as I was sworn into the United States Senate. In just one lifetime, my family had gone from picking cotton in South Carolina to picking out a seat in Congress and later the United States Senate.
We have lived the promise of America. My grandfather grew up in the Jim Crow South, and my mother came of age during the civil rights movement. Despite these challenges, they never lost sight of what was truly possible for us.
My parents divorced when I was 7, leaving my mom to provide for my brother and me. She worked sixteen-hour days as a nurse’s assistant to keep a roof over our heads and some food on the table. We even moved into my grandparent’s small house for a time—the five of us sharing two bedrooms. My dreams revolved around football, and my academics slipped. I flunked my freshman year of high school and reached a fork in the road. My mother, and an amazing mentor named John Moniz, made sure I took the right path. They both believed that Tim Scott, just a poor black kid from North Charleston, South Carolina, had more potential than he could imagine. And they knew that in this country, if I pulled myself together, all things were possible.
Thanks to them, I got on track. I graduated from high school and college and eventually started my own small business. I got involved in local politics, running for Charleston County Council, and working to help build a better future not just for my own family, but for our community as a whole.
The truth is, there aren’t many places in the world where my story is possible. And while America offers that opportunity, we still have to continue working to make sure every single person in this country believes a chance at success is available to them. I grew up with too many folks who lost the belief that the world held something larger in store for them. To restore that belief, we have to tackle longstanding issues. The tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this year gave us a window to find solutions and bring communities of color and law enforcement together to start rebuilding trust that has eroded over decades.