From poverty to public service: Franklin County commissioner delivers keynote address at Black History Month program

By Kristin Molinaro DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

PRINT  |  E-MAIL

Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce delivered the keynote address at the Defense Supply Center Columbus’ African American and Black History Month celebration Feb. 27. (CAC enabled) Boyce became the county’s first black commissioner when he was sworn into office in 2017.

In a robust presentation to the military and civilian audience at the Operations Center Auditorium, Boyce reflected on the impact of African Americans throughout American history and shared personal stories from his own life.

“We’ve been away from slavery less years than slavery actually plagued our country. So think about the implications of what that means in today’s society – erasing the culture and issues African Americans face? It’s still a part of our DNA and still very much a part of our history,” Boyce said.

Boyce was born and raised in a housing project less than a mile from the gates of DSCC, on the site where the city’s Africentric School sits today.

In his opening remarks, the commissioner spoke of the defining moments in his life, including the day his mother sat him down at seven years of age and explained his father had been murdered.

“Here’s a guy who did two tours in Vietnam as a Marine…and comes home to his own neighborhood, his own community and has his life taken by someone that looks like him, lives by him and is a part of his community,” Boyce said. “Many families across Central Ohio – in urban settings and even rural settings – face similar challenges. And the way people overcome those challenges is when the village – the community – steps in to fill the void of that loved one.”

Boyce stated it was his grandmother who stepped into the void and became a defining influence in his life, shaping a lot of the philosophical views he holds today.

She imparted many life lessons but one particular experience is at the top.

When a teenaged Boyce asked his “penny-pinching” grandmother for a pair of expensive Air Jordans, she grabbed her wallet and coat and told him to get in the car. Thinking his grandmother meant to buy the highly coveted shoes for him, he did.

“The idea that she had said ‘yes’ and then we were out, off and on our way was kind of interesting to me,” Boyce recalled. “But I was falling for it. We’re in the car, grandma’s driving, I’m in the passenger seat feeling good and love is in the air.”

But a few minutes later, the truth unfolded in comical fashion.  Instead of taking him to purchase the prized shoes, she drove him to a grocery store in a local shopping center and brought him inside to fill out a job application.

“She taught me the best lesson in life,” Boyce said. “If you want something, perhaps someone will provide the opportunity for you but it’s up to you to take advantage of it.”

Boyce said the turning point in his young life was the day his mother got a job at the post office. For the first time, his family had health care. The increased stability gave way to increased opportunities, and Boyce went on to attend and graduate college – the first generation of his family to do so. 

Boyce described his career as meteoric. At 37, he was elected treasurer for the state of Ohio – the youngest statewide officeholder in the U.S. at the time – and tasked with leading the nation’s seventh largest treasury. He spoke of being “in the clutch” to meet President Barack Obama during his first visit to Columbus after taking office, and several other career highlights that have defined his 20 years of public service.

None of which would’ve been possible without the gains African Americans have strived for in the 150 years since slavery ended.

Transitioning to the program’s theme of Black Migrations, Boyce presented a timeline of Africa’s history of migration starting from 125,000 years ago to the introduction of the transatlantic slave trade nearly 500 years ago. He recounted the scope of American slavery, which began in 1619 when the first slaves arrived in Virginia and continued up until the ratification of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868 giving all native born and naturalized persons citizenship and giving blacks equal protection under the law.

“That’s what black history is about and that’s what this discussion of black migration is about – the impact of black Americans on American history and world history,” Boyce said. “It’s really about our ability to create a new chapter, to write a new page that sets the stage for future generations…We’re all a part of the great migration and today we stand on the shoulders of so many people who’ve gotten us where we are today.”

Earlier in the program, Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Chief of Staff Air Force Col. Janette Ketchum welcomed attendees with opening remarks, and associate April Hannah provided narration duties as mistress of ceremonies. The DLA Land and Maritime Equal Employment Opportunity Office hosted the program through their African American Employment Program in conjunction with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service-Columbus.

Resident vocalist Lisa Griffin delivered the National Anthem followed by an invocation given by Laura Leeper-Branham, a DLA Land and Maritime Chaplain Liaison Program volunteer.

The DSCC Choir performed the African American Anthem “Lift Every Voice” to close out the event.

Guests were invited to stay and enjoy cultural food samples provided by Eurest Café immediately following the program. 

Watch the full presentation (CAC enabled)