BY MICHAEL FUTRELL
I am thankful to frontrunnerpolitics.com for allowing me to document some of my story. Traveling with the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign to Ohio was one of the most emotional and therapeutic experiences of my life. There were two rallies and each meant something special.
Checking my email early Friday morning, I noticed that earlier that evening I received an email from the Sanders campaign. It said that they had just finalized the rally for Sen. Sanders in my birth city of Toledo, Ohio for that following afternoon and wanted me to be there to speak if I were available. I responded that I would love to be there, but the problem was now timing. There were only a limited amount of flights I could catch to make it on time, and no one was up from the campaign to authorize my travel!
I frantically began to pack my bags, determined to make it, but not knowing how it was going to work out. See, this Toledo rally meant so much more to me than all of the events I had done before. Not because I would have family and friends in the crowd, but because of a call I received on April 21, 2015.
Many people have heard me tell the story of being raised by a single father, next door to a drug house, but only those close to me really knew of my relationship with my mother. She and I had an estranged relationship for many years, not because of a bad relationship between her and my father and/or not because she didn’t love me, but because just like millions of others, addiction took hold of her.
Those who knew my mother would always say she was a ray of sunshine! Her joyful spirit and charisma were infectious. Every time she was around, I knew how much she loved me. I always tell people that my father made me the man that I am, but my mother is why I was electable! As I got into my teenage years, we became closer and talked more frequently than in years past. In 2009, she gave me custody of my younger brother who I moved out to Virginia to live with me.
This is where we had the opportunity to be more consistent developing our relationship. At some point I noticed that her behavior became very sporadic at times and just assumed that addiction had taken hold again. It wasn’t until April 21 that I learned the truth. My mother called and informed me that she had cancer. She had the disease for years and now it was terminal. I got in my car and drove five hours through the night to break the news to my brother, and prepared to head back to Ohio to be with our mother for her final oncologist appointment. When we picked her up for the appointment, she looked like a different person. As we sat outside waiting to be called in, all I kept thinking was “how did we get here?”
I wasn’t sure what questions to ask when we finally made our way back. When the doctor entered the room, my mother introduced me as her son “the elected official” and expressed how proud she was of me. The doctor smiled and before he could get any word out, I blurted out, “how did we end up here?”
At first he tried to say that we should just focus on the precious time we had left, but I made sure to get my point across that I wanted him to answer my question. Finally he answered…”Your mother has been battling for quite some time, and while we have treated her cancer as aggressively as possible, the cancer is going to win this time.”
I turned to my mother and asked “why did we find it so late?” Her response still haunts me when I am alone to my own thoughts like an eerie echo on repeat…”I couldn’t afford health insurance, so I was not able to get the routine checks that would have normally caught it sooner.” The only reason her cancer was found was because she grew very ill one evening and went to the ER. My mother died on May 25th 2015 because she could not afford health insurance. Her bank account couldn’t afford to give her the chance she needed at survival. That call on April 21 is why I knew I had to be there to tell her story. I would make sure that her story was not in vain. This woman who lived in homeless shelters and barley had enough money to be cremated would have her story on the hearts of thousands.
With no word back from the campaign, I hopped in my car, ready to drive the nine hours to arrive just in time! I would be there by any means necessary. About an hour up the road I got a call that travel was approved. I turned around and headed to the nearest airport. At the rally, back stage with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, State Sen. Nina Turner and Sen. Sanders, I felt distracted.
As I was announced and walked out on stage, I looked around and remembered the many trips to this same location I had with my mother when I was younger. With a somber heart, I approached the microphone and my therapy session began. After the rally, it was humbling to hear the stories of others and what healthcare meant to them. Being able to hug some of the people who were crying because of their connection to my story was just as much a part of my healing process as it was theirs. This vulnerability in front of thousands of people and TV cameras was my therapy session. I hope I did my mother proud.
My next stop on this Ohio tour guided me to the city that built my formative years. Columbus Ohio. Sen. Sanders was having a rally at Ohio State University prior to the nationally televised town hall. Some 12,000 people attended! I began to reflect on that story I mentioned earlier about being raised by my father in Columbus, next door to a drug house. I began to think of the time I saw a group of teenagers take a man out of his house naked at gun point across the street from my house.
How amazing was it that this same little boy who saw all of these things would grow up to become the first ever African American elected to represent Stafford County in the Virginia House of Delegates in its 350 year existence, and now came back home to take the stage with who could potentially be our next President of the United States of America?
The event was phenomenal! The people asking when I would run again and how they could help was humbling. After the rally, the campaign asked if I would stop by the local campaign headquarters in Columbus before I headed to Dayton. They gave me an address and as I was pulling up, something felt very familiar. As I walked to the door, I looked to my left, only to see that the headquarters was directly across the street from the house we lived in that I spoke about at the rally!
Talk about full circle! I hadn’t been back in years. After talking with the volunteers, I walked around my old neighborhood. Some things had changed, some were the same. Some of the houses that were abandoned when we lived there were now livable, and some that were livable are now abandoned. It was 11pm, and it still felt as unsafe as I remembered. I decided that walking around and taking pictures while talking to my dad on the phone about this new development was not a good idea (ok, maybe he told me that and I decided he was right!) I drove by my old elementary school. Ohio Avenue.
The same school that in third grade I got in trouble for bringing a switch blade to school because I felt like I needed to protect myself against the gangs. It was at this same school in 1990 that Roberta Flack visited and told a young 8-year-old boy with straight A’s that he could be anything he set his mind to. He believed her, and he could only wonder if his words at either of those rallies would inspire another young man or woman to set what seemed to be impossible dreams. There are no words that can describe what this journey was like. I am invested into Sen. Sanders because of what his message stands for, but I am thankful to Sen. Sanders for allowing my story and voice to be heard.
For that I am forever grateful. #FeelTheBern