Kemp Leadership Award Dinner: A night of adventure

by Donovan Hicks   •  

The Jack Kemp Leadership Award is presented by the Jack Kemp Foundation to people who show exceptional leadership in public policy or private enterprise. Each year, the Foundation honors an exceptional leader who champions the American Idea. This year’s award was presented to Governor Nikki Haley on Wednesday, December 7 in Washington, DC. One of our Opportunity Leaders, Donovan Hicks, attended on Opportunity Nation’s behalf.

Opportunity Nation is a leading effort for expanding economic mobility and reducing the opportunity gap across the country and across party lines. This is a product of its long relationships with notable national thought leaders, such as the Kemp Foundation. One of the neat things about being an Opportunity Leader, which is a network of advocates who have personal experience dealing with barriers, is that you get to help Opportunity Nation keep and deepen such relationships. This week, I was charged with representing Opportunity Nation at the annual Kemp Foundation Leadership Award Meeting honoring Governor Nikki Haley. It was a night of adventure …

By the time the clock struck 6:30 p.m., I had arrived at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium a bit early to the ball. After I spent some time admiring the almost cathedral-like architecture inside the auditorium that once hosted the original members of NATO, I manage to strike a conversation with Raynard Jackson – President/CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC. Raynard introduced himself as “Barack Obama” and that seemed to set the tone for the rest of our conversation. Raynard had lost count of how many times he attended Kemp Foundation events, citing his long-time close relationship with Jimmy Kemp and the family. No dull moment existed as Raynard told numerous, hilarious anecdotes regarding his life as once a tax accountant and now political consultant. I was wowed by the number of friends and confidants who approached him with joy during our conversation. He seemed to have such insight into the political heartbeat of DC.

The event started around 7:30 p.m. and featured a panel discussion with Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator John McCain. Both praised Governor Nikki Haley on her award and championed her potential to be an excellent Ambassador to the United Nations. Their discussion covered a broad spectrum of topics detailing the state of America. Both Gingrich and McCain seemed wholly optimistic about the cabinet picks made by the Trump administration, describing each of his choices as “strong and sensible.” And, perhaps, the most endearing moment occurred when Senator McCain reflected upon his long admiration of Speaker Gingrich – it was a true friendship showcased for the entire audience to experience.

Governor Haley was the belle of the ball, as she was the recipient of the Kemp Leadership Award for 2016. She walked to the stage after a wonderful introduction by Senator Scott, whom I was able to greet just minutes before, stating that he could not be more proud of his governor, as she is a role model for so many – I agree. She prefaced her remarks with her deep gratitude and respect for Senator McCain and Speaker Gingrich. She went on to detail the immense pride she has in being governor of the great state of South Carolina, referencing its substantial job increase during her tenure. But Governor Haley captivated the room with her recounting of tragic murder of the nine Mother Emmanuel A.M.E church members that was heard around the world. She spoke every name and emotion grew in the room. When referencing her historic decision to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, Governor Haley said that the flag was a “symbol of hatred” for far too many. I could not have said it better than she did on that night.

Democrats and Republicans sat at my dinner table, and that image will perhaps never leave the burrows of my memory – it was a beautiful scene. The topics of politics did arise, and disagreements did occur, but at the core of every conversation was a deep respect for every point of view and appreciation for every person. Most meaningfully, every so often during the conversation throughout the night the following words recurred: “I agree.” Compromise, consensus, and bipartisanship is possible, regardless of creed, race, religion, and political leaning. I was glad to see yet another example of that truth.

Donovan Hicks Donovan is a native of South Carolina and a Phi-Beta Kappa graduate of Wofford College. He has been recognized as Gates Millennium, Bonner, Truman, and Mitchell Scholar. He is currently working at Deloitte Federal Consulting, and will attend Trinity College Dublin next Fall for a Master of Philosophy degree in Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict.

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