Foxx tells Livingstone graduates to work hard, pray harder
SALISBURY — Son of a teenage mother and descendant of a woman who was sold as a slave at age 8, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx told graduates at Livingstone College he is not extraordinary.
In a commencement speech that encouraged graduates to work hard and pray harder, Foxx did not mention his nomination last week by President Barack Obama to head the Department of Transportation.
Instead, Foxx outlined his humble beginnings and attributed his success to church members, friends and family who supported him and prayed for him.
“I’m an ordinary guy born to a 19-year-old woman when that wasn’t happening very much,” said Foxx, who at age 42 will become the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet if confirmed by the Senate.
Born in 1971 in Charlotte’s Mercy Hospital, Foxx said he was “…willing to bet nobody thought that the 48th mayor of Charlotte had just arrived.”
“I’m willing to bet that,” Foxx told 120 undergraduates. “So I know something about doubt.”
Foxx spoke to an overflow crowd in Varick Auditorium. Officials moved the ceremony, which was scheduled to be held in the football stadium, inside due to rain.
Foxx said his grandmother, now 95, knew her grandmother, who was sold into slavery as a child.
“She knew her well enough to know the challenges that young woman faced,” Foxx said.
The eight-year-old slave grew up to have a son with 14 children. He sent them all to college, Foxx said.
The first African-American nominated to the cabinet in Obama’s second term, Foxx was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by Livingstone. He is the youngest mayor in Charlotte’s history.
His national profile rose when the Queen City hosted the Democratic National Convention last year, which re-nominated the country’s first African-American president.
Foxx, who sang the Negro National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by heart, encouraged Livingstone graduates to overcome self doubt and challenged them to pay back the debt they owe to supporters, even those they don’t know.
“I had, just as you have, people behind you who are lifting you up,” Foxx said.
Their undergraduate experience has strengthened them and taught them resilience, Foxx told the students.
“When you walk across this stage, celebrate not only having that piece of paper which says what you’ve done to get it, but celebrate that you have lived through and worked through doubts that you may have had along the way,” he said.
Working as a successful lawyer, Foxx said he was nagged by a feeling that he was called to do something more for society. He began to feel disconnected from his fellow human beings, he said, “that I was doing well, but there were other people who weren’t.”
He began to pray for guidance.
“I can’t exactly tell you that God told me to run for city council, but I can tell you that as I started to make the decision to get involved in politics, the pathway opened up,” Foxx said.
He served two terms on Charlotte City Council and in 2009, decided to run for mayor. People thought he was crazy, Foxx said.
Charlotte had not had a democratic mayor in 22 years. He had few resources and even fewer years of experience.
Foxx said he ignored the critics. About four months into the campaign, the opponent’s war chest was three times the size of his, and the press predicted he would lose, Fox said.
“I kept praying,” he said.
Foxx won handily.
“There are plans that God has for you that you don’t even know,” he told graduates.
Foxx earned his undergraduate degree from Davidson College, not Livingstone, but his mother helped raise millions of dollars for Livingstone when she served on the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, a college official said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.