North Charleston photo

[image-1]In the wake of Tim Scott’s historic election to the U.S. Senate, a lot is being made today about the South Carolinian’s rise to power, in particular the pulled-himself-up-by-his-own-bootstraps story of how he went from being a poor, wayward African-American teen to a successful businessman.

There’s a problem though with his tale, a lesson that few, if any, are getting.  

As you have probably heard by now, the junior senator was once an aimless teen who was failing four classes, and he was on the verge of flunking out of high school. He worked a part-time job at a movie theater, and every day he ordered fries and a water from a nearby Chick-fil-A. The owner of the restaurant, John Moniz, eventually took the 13-year-old Scott under his wing and educated him in the teachings of the Republican Party and self-help evangelicals. Under Moniz’s watchful gaze — and free sandwiches — Scott’s worldview changed and his prospects improved. Eventually, Scott entered college, graduated, and became a successful insurance salesman before embarking on a career in politics. And although Moniz tragically passed away when Scott was only 17, even today the senator credits his success to his one-time mentor. 

That sounds like an American success story, right? Wrong.

What Scott declines to admit and what so many others refuse to say is that the senator’s tale is actually a case study in how difficult it is for the poor — in particular African-Americans in South Carolina — to break the bonds of poverty. 

The fact of the matter is Scott’s mother worked multiple jobs, and still she wasn’t able to provide for her son. Equally as bad, Scott himself saw no way out of poverty himself, writing:

Growing up in a single-parent home left me a bit disillusioned about life. My parents divorced when I was around the age of 7. By the time I entered high school, I was completely off track. My mother was working hard, trying to help me to realize that there was a brighter future, but I really couldn’t see it.

So by the time I entered the ninth grade, I was flunking out of high school. I failed world geography, civics, Spanish and English.

When you fail Spanish and English, they do not consider you bilingual. They consider you bi-ignorant because you can’t speak in any language.

And that’s where I found myself. I found myself in a position where I felt like the future was nonexistent. The only way I could find my way out of poverty was through entertainment, whether it be a football player, cutting up in school or something like that.

Think about that for a moment. Even though his mother worked 16 hours day and he himself had a part-time job, Scott and his mother still lived in poverty. Might things have been different if Scott’s mother had been paid a livable wage? Surely. Might she have had more time to help her son through his most troubled times in school? Absolutely.

Instead, Scott’s life was turned around because he received a hand-out, at first in the form of a free chicken sandwich and later in the form of advice and business lessons. Without Moniz’s kindness, without his largesse, Scott himself may have very well ended up working multiple jobs with no hope of ever escaping a life of poverty.

Although Tim Scott has made some attempts to help the poor with his own so-called Opportunity Agenda, he has chosen to align himself with a party that largely views those who are struggling — including millions of folks just like his own mother  — with disdain if not out and out contempt.

While it’s certainly worth applauding Scott for making something of himself even though the deck was clearly stacked against him, I would hope that one day he will open his eyes and see that he is the beneficiary of a helping hand that few others ever receive and that his party simply refuses to give.

Most of all, I hope he looks in the mirror and admits to himself that he is not the product of the American Dream, he’s a survivor of the American Nightmare.