The following is a transcript of remarks delivered by Shay Hawkins and the Honorable Senator Tim Scott at the 2021 Hamilton Award Dinner
Shay Hawkins: Good evening. I do some work with the Manhattan Institute periodically, on panels and things along those lines, and so I was going to freestyle, but based on that, the team decided to make me write everything down here to keep my comments under four minutes, so we’re going to get through this quickly. We are here, and it is my great honor to introduce Senator Tim Scott. And so we’re honoring him with tonight’s Hamilton Award. Senator Scott is a good friend of mine, but he’s also my former boss. But we’re not here to talk about how great a boss Senator Scott was. We are here to honor him for the great work he’s done in his long career in public policy.
I met Senator Scott back in 2009. I had just had a very severe car accident. And the first event I went to outside of my house that wasn’t physical therapy was meeting with Senator Tim Scott. All of the local folks told me, hey, there’s a guy you’ve got to meet. He’s coming to Cleveland, Ohio, to tour our charter schools. Ohio doesn’t do a lot great, but we do school choice well. We’re leaders in school choice, as Senator Scott was to become. I had no idea that seven years later I would end up working for him and helping him to draft significant parts of the tax reform bill. Senator Scott rose from a very difficult upbringing to join Congress in 2010. Then, after more than a decade on Charleston County Council, he was elected to the House of Representatives. Three years later, he was appointed to the Senate, where he kept his seat in two elections, and, hopefully, we’ll make that a three here coming up.
He was the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction and has been a great defender of equal opportunity, good policing, and national unity ever since. And we should also note that Senator Scott is the first and only African-American to be elected to both the House and the Senate. So we’re very excited about that. As you all know, Senator Scott is amongst the nation’s strongest advocates for charter schools and opportunity zones. He has consistently pushed to give parents more choice in where they send their kids to school, including during this past year and a half, when widespread school closures and learning loss have shown more clearly than ever why families need options. And he spearheaded the successful effort to include opportunity zones in the 2007 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a policy that encourages investment and entrepreneurship in nearly 9,000 of the nation’s poorest census tracks.
Senator Scott has also become a major force in the debate over police reform when so many others have retreated into slogans and partisanship. Like most Americans, Senator Scott believes that you can do two things at once. One, we know that police are a crucial element of public safety, especially in the nation’s most fragile communities. And two, there are ways to improve policing and do a better job at holding bad actors accountable. He’s fighting to address real problems when rejecting efforts to defund or otherwise undermine the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect all the rest of us.
More broadly, Senator Scott has fought for national unity, arguing that the forces pulling us together are actually stronger than the forces that are trying to pull us apart. He knows the country is not perfect and has spoken movingly about his own experiences with discrimination, but he also knows that America’s founding ideals are sound and that we’ve made immense progress towards those ideals, and that it’s wrong to declare America to be a racist enterprise and to label Americans as oppressors or oppressed, simply based on the color of their skin.
Fortunately, Scott’s only 55 years old, and so he will be inspiring and fighting for us for many years in the future, both in the Senate and whatever else comes. But already tonight, we have so much to honor him for. He is the living embodiment of the American dream and a force for good in this country. So now I’d like to welcome the man himself to the podium. Ladies and gentlemen, Senator Tim Scott.
Senator Tim Scott: Thank you. Obviously, when I finish speaking, you guys get to go home, so they’re excited for me to speak and get out of here. I understand that part. Let me just say to Shay, who introduced me, as I was working through the opportunity zone legislation, I had some really good ideas, and much of it I stole from Jack Kemp and the enterprise zones. But it was Shay Hawkins who actually wrote the legislation on my behalf. And I want to thank you, Shay, for your hard work, your dedication, and your brain. God bless you.
We are literally being served by some of the greatest folks I’ve ever had a chance to watch do their jobs. If you would, take a minute to thank the folks that are serving the tables all over this room. Thank you all for the way you’ve taken care of us tonight. I also had a chance to walk around a little bit because when you’re a nervous guy from the South, you don’t want to sit there and eat the, I thought it was pork chop, but it’s actually lamb chop. I figured I wouldn’t do that. I walked around and hung out with folks at different tables. And I had a chance to go over here and talk to someone in New York’s finest, the law enforcement officers and retired officers. God bless you all back there.
To every single first responder in this room, we owe you a debt of gratitude. We really do. Thank you for the way you do your job. Thank you for your heart and your passion, and your compassion for people. To the Manhattan Institute, thank you. Thank you for the work that you’ve done for years, 44 years or so, on issues, economic opportunity, education, equality, and community stability. You all do it better than any other institute in our nation. I think we need more Manhattan Institutes around this country. I’ve recommended satellite sites in cities all over the nation. Paul, I’m going to let you figure out how to get that done. So, chairman of the board, it’s all your responsibility. You guys work together, okay? The new members of the board can contribute as well. So this is very important work.
I’ll say this: In many ways, I am literally living my mother’s American dream. And the reason why I stand before you today excited about where we are and what we’re talking about is because in this country it is real that anybody from anywhere at any time can rise beyond their wildest imagination with just a few pieces of life’s puzzle. Eva Moskowitz spends her life making sure that one of the pillars that’s really important, the pillar of education, is accessible to kids who have incredible and unlimited potential, but, where they live, access to a quality education isn’t a possibility. But it’s her drive, her tenacity, and the willingness to get folks to support your dream and your vision, maybe folks at your table, working together that makes all things possible. And thank you for doing what you do without any question. Success Academy is a major success for the nation.
I’ve said it several times before, but I’ll say it again: I had the good fortune of being raised by a single mother in the deep South, mired in poverty, who believed that there’s dignity in all work. My mother worked 16 hours a day, three days a week, and two days a week, she worked eight hours a day because she felt like it was her responsibility to make sure that there was a model of work in our household, that my brother and I would always see someone going to work. And if she could do it herself, it was her responsibility to get it done. Do not ask anyone to do for you what you can do for yourself was my mama’s motto. And, literally, she showed me the way to success in a way that no one else could have done.
And I will say that, as you all may be aware, that some kids don’t pay attention as long as they should. Anyone raised a kid like that? Oh, just my mama. Okay. Anyways, I’ll talk to you anyway. So my brother was a perfect kid. I was not. From seven to about fourteen years old, I started drifting in the wrong direction. I thought the challenges of my life, the fact that my father was not around, gave me reasons not to be dedicated to my own future. And so as a freshman in high school, I failed out of school, didn’t have an Eva Moskowitz in my neighborhood. I failed Spanish and English. And when you fail Spanish and English, no one calls you bilingual. They call you bi-ignorant because you can’t speak in any language. Also, receiving the Alexander Hamilton Award is a blessing. I did, however, fail civics as well.
Now, after eight years in the Senate, I am not the only one failing civics and the United States Congress. I had the privilege of having my mom come home from work and try to encourage and motivate me during that very tough year. And she would always tell me that if you just shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll be among the stars. She was a great motivator, and she was my inspiration. But after my freshman year and the debacle that it was, she came home about 11:40 one night, walked up the stairs in our apartment, and looked at my report card. She looked at me; she looked at my report card. She shook me a little bit. And she said, “Sweetheart.” I pretended to be asleep. She said, “Baby.” She said, “Timmy.” I said, “Yes, Ma’am.”
She said, “I worked so hard for so long, and this is the best thing you can do?” I didn’t really grasp the gravity of the situation until she pulled me by my hand, walked me downstairs, and went outside. I knew I was going to have an actual lesson about the moon and stars. But she said I had already failed that course. So she walked me over to a little tree and she said, “Pick a branch.” Great. So I picked a branch. She said, “Pull the leaves off.” And remember this is South Carolina, not New York. This was legal at the time that it was done. I’m not sure what you guys do up here. Anyways, so I took the leaves off, and I said, “Mama, what is that?” And she introduced me to the psychology of a switch. Now, for those of y’all not familiar with the Southern traditions, a switch is a Southern apparatus of encouragement.
It is typically applied from your belt to your ankles. And I was thoroughly encouraged, went to summer school, and never failed another subject in my entire life. I also never heard shooting for the moon and missing the stars either, but there’s something about discipline that really works. And so when we think about and talk about the importance of education equality, when we think about and talk about making sure that there is quality education in every single zip code around the country, the consequences of not having it is instability in our nation that grows into more crime, more dependency, and really the loss of the American fabric. It starts being strained. So I can’t underscore or overemphasize the importance of the work that so many in this room are doing today and every day in supporting school choice, whether it’s charter schools, public schools, private schools, virtual schools, or home schools. Every part of the school apparatus that improves and provides competition and quality education for our kids makes America stronger and healthier and more independent. It protects the goose that lays the golden eggs.
That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about having satellite locations of the Manhattan Institute. We need more of what you do here everywhere because I will say that this think tank, this Institute, provides the type of expertise and the scholars that are really important to winning the debates. I am actually an optimist and believe that 80 percent of people still want to have a civil public forum where we debate the big issues of our future. That requires us to do the hard work every day, so that the public forum remains civil. The Manhattan Institute, you do it in a way that is with respect, typically courteous, always fact-driven, and compelling.
For some reason on the right, we think that if we’re not shouting louder, people can’t hear us. It’s wrong. It’s not effective. Politics is a game of addition. In order for us to change minds, we have to first address the heart. I think it was Jack Kemp who said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s our responsibility as conservative leaders—to help people understand the heart, the why, before we start having a conversation about the what.
As I entered into my sophomore year, I had the good fortune of meeting a Chick-fil-A operator, who was a small business owner who saw something in me that I literally could not see myself. And John Moniz, that Chick-fil-A guy, spent four years investing in me and teaching me some very basic principles that I am so thankful for today and every day. And as that kid, when he met me at 15 years old, I thought the only way out of poverty for a poor kid in Charleston, South Carolina, was either entertainment, athletics, or drugs. Those are really bad options for 99.9 percent of our kids. I will tell you that two of my friends growing up went the route of drugs and made a lot of money for a little while. One was shot through the chest at 21, and the other one died at 18. And my best friend spent seven years in the federal penitentiary.
There are consequences for those who need to hear the truth. If there are not enough truth-tellers in those communities, we all lose. And John never gave up on me. He never surrendered. He always wanted me to know that having a job was a good thing, but creating jobs was a better thing. John taught me that. “Ultimately, son,” he said, “your income will decide your lifestyle, but your profit can change your community. Profits are always better than wages.” It took me a little while to figure that out. When I sold my business and the Obamacare 3.8 percent was tacked on the 20 percent capital gains tax, I understood what he meant. It got real then. But one of the things that you all do really well is talk about economic opportunity and economic mobility. And for those of us who are living the American dream, I think it’s our responsibility to not forget to spend time in places where people don’t necessarily invite us, so that we are the difference that people need to see in places where very few people go. I will tell you that John was right. I was wrong.
As a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, I am so glad that after my senior year in high school, I had a major car accident, went through the windshield, broke my ankle, missed eight weeks of my senior football season, lost lots of scholarships, and ended up with a small scholarship. I am so thankful that for four years, John taught me about business, about buying my mom the house—not through my activities on the football field, but through learning the business principles that always lead up.
So many young kids today who grew up in neighborhoods like I did want to take care of mom. They want to have the security to know that their families will always be better off. And the way we get there is not by selling them a pipe dream of athletics or entertainment or drugs. We can do what others say is impossible. The American dream is alive. It’s healthy. It just needs a little push in the areas where people today have lost hope.
I look around this room and I see a lot of John Monizes, who’ve really invested a lot of resources in making New York and this nation a better place. I look around this room and have had conversations with a number of you who are passionate about this nation. I think the thing that we have to defend the most is the American culture. I think the thing we have to defend the most is making sure that we protect the goose that lays the golden eggs, so that each generation benefits from the work done by the previous generation. And when that happens, the next American century starts. We are not finished yet. Our best days are without question getting ready to start.
The challenges that we feel today… There’s a book called The Storm before the Calm. I believe that we were in the middle of the storm. I think it was a necessary storm. I think sometimes you have to look in the mirror and see if you recognize who you want to be. Are your dreams still alive? Are you working to make a difference in someone’s life that you’ll never meet? That’s the story of America. And if we do what we’re supposed to do, when we’re supposed to do it, the day will come when this nation is able to stand up to the greatest threats outside. Because today, we have to deal with the greatest threats inside. We are very distracted from our work as a global leader because we’re so focused on the look of a person, on the religion of a person. That’s not America.
America believes in the content of the character, not the color of the skin. My mentor was a white guy who didn’t have a program that you could become a part of. He just saw someone who needed a little help, and he gave me a little push. Everybody that I know is willing to do something for someone who cannot pay them back. It’s because we are an exceptional people. Never forget it. Never look down when you’re talking about us. And always remember that the best is yet to come, and you represent that best. God bless you, and thank you.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for any corrections.