I was born in a small town in Hickman County, just off the Highway 40 exit for Bucksnort. I grew up in a small, tight knit, blue collar, hardworking family. I am the youngest of seven children, three brothers and three sisters. My parents worked at Schrader's teflon factory until it shut down, one year short of my parents' 20 year pension. I remember these were hard times for our family. I went to Hickman County High School where there were two career tracks for students, one for college and one vocational. Both tracks led to successful career paths for my friends and me – the school offered drafting and agricultural courses, and the college track classes prepared me for my next step, Belmont University in Nashville. I majored in Religion and Education – a choice influenced by a transformative mission trip to Detroit when I was sixteen years old. In college, my dad had a tractor accident and I remember my religion professors visiting him in the hospital. During that time, my father had a faith conversion, and I began to explore the big questions of life and faith. He made it through that accident, but passed away a few years later from cancer when I was in graduate school. I attended Mercer University to continue studying theology, followed by a job at Georgia Tech in campus ministry as a chaplain.
It was during this time that I took a truly life-changing trip to Turkey and Greece, aimed at engaging students in some of the most difficult sociopolitical issues of the day. On this trip I learned how to listen and talk across lines, with people I fundamentally disagreed with. For our discussions, we had to be prepared and write research papers, so that our opinions were well supported with knowledge. After returning and completing graduate school, I took a job as a chaplain at Franklin College in Indiana, a small Baptist school with about one thousand students. The best part of this job was the students. We did service work, and took trips to Washington, DC or New York, which got the kids outside of themselves and their own comfort zones. I realized that we often have blinders on about the real needs of our communities, and that sometimes we have to go somewhere else to get a fresh perspective so we can come back home and work on the problems in our own neighborhoods. Through these trips, students learned the important lessons of being the voice for the voiceless. They learned about themselves, what they wanted to be, and how they wanted to use the gifts they were given. Myself, I learned that what keeps me going is that I know we can make a real difference in the world.
While at Franklin College, I met my wife Sarah who was a Resident at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. She had attended Baylor University as an undergraduate, and University of Texas Southwestern for medical school. Her specialty is juvenile epilepsy. We hit it off on our first date, which started with coffee and a walk to the observatory and park, and continued with dinner and dessert. Two years later we were married, on October 18, 2009. I commuted 100 miles between Franklin and Cincinnati for five years, until we were offered jobs at LeBonheur Hospital here in Memphis in 2014. I work now as a chaplain at LeBonheur where I have the privilege of walking with people through some of the most difficult and critical parts of life and death. As a chaplain I talk across religious lines, with people from all faiths, and all walks of life. The most basic religious teaching is to love your neighbor, with no exceptions. Love your enemies; there is no exception clause to that.
In 2016 I was asked to come to Standing Rock in North Dakota as a chaplain for 3,000 American military veterans who were going to support the indigenous communities resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline. The national guard was called out, and the veterans acted as human shields, enduring rubber bullets and water cannons. Thirty chaplains were there to serve as a non-anxious presence and to counsel veterans with PTSD. There at Standing Rock, I recalled my trip to Greece and Turkey, and the presence of sacred places on earth and the importance of peace and prayer, and justice. These are also values that inform my campaign for Tennessee State Senate for District 31.
The three most important issues to me are healthcare, education, and infrastructure and jobs. Healthcare should be accessible and affordable for everyone. In the past few years, ten rural hospitals in West Tennessee have closed – a decrease of twenty percent of the rural economy that reminds me of what happened to my family when the teflon plant closed and my parents lost their jobs. This affects Memphis because people in rural areas come to Memphis for care. For solely ideological reasons, Brian Kelsey voted against a bill that made $1.4 billion in revenue leave the state of Tennessee, which we are still paying for but not getting the services for. I want to bring this money back to Tennessee, regardless of whether the plan is called Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. Seventy percent of the families who bring their children to LeBonheur use Medicaid, so when politicians cut medical services, they are hurting the children. I stand for for all families, because I see the financial struggles they face when they should be allowed to focus on caring for their sick children. More than twenty-eight thousand children are uninsured in Tennessee. Beyond being a fiscal issue, this is a moral issue.
I am also campaigning on an education agenda. I support our public schools and public school teachers. We need quality, affordable, accessible early childhood education, vocational training like was available for me and my peers, and affordable higher education. We need a jobs pipeline that pays a living wage to lift people out of poverty. We need to strengthen our local infrastructure, like bridges and roads to keep our citizens safe. We need to build a pipeline from school to the workforce with good paying jobs.
I love that Memphis is home for my family and me. My wife Sarah and I have two beautiful children, Norah and Vivian, who we are blessed to raise in such a loving and richly diverse city. What I love about Memphis is the hospitality, how people will always sit down with you and talk regardless of whether you're rich or poor or other divides. I love the pride in the city, and the diversity here. People know each other in Memphis. I am running for Tennessee State Senate for District 31 because I love this community and want to be a part of making it a better place for everyone. In my life's calling, I have the privilege of ministering to people from all walks of life, all political perspectives, all races, and all religions. I know how to listen, and how to hear, and I look forward to the opportunity of serving as your representative.