Congressman shares past with Black Law Association
By HELENA RAYAM
About 20 years ago, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. sat in his Memphis, Tenn., home doing homework to prepare for his future.
"When I was growing up, we couldn't go outside until we finished our homework," said Ford.
After years of working before playing, Ford and his neighborhood playmates include five lawyers, three doctors and a military officer, among others.
Ford, a Democrat, reflected on his road to Congress and his political career to law students during Saturday's lecture, "Self Help: Empowering Ourselves with a New Attitude." The lecture was part of the 27th annual Black Law Student Association's (BLSA) Alumni Weekend.
"All of my life I've dreamt about running for Congress and serving my district," Ford said.
At 26, Ford was elected to the House of Representatives as the youngest member of the 105th Congress. He was re-elected to a second term in 1998 and currently will run unopposed in the 2000 congressional elections.
"This man comes from a proud political tradition," said BLSA president Tamara Walker, who attended elementary school with Ford in Tennessee. Ford's father was a representative in the U. S. House, and several other family members are political officials.
Because of Ford's political roots, the University of Michigan School of Law graduate had some difficulties separating himself as a candidate.
"I was not really taken seriously initially by my opponents," said Ford, adding that people referred to his election as a "graduation gift."
"The nucleus of [my opponent's] campaign was that I was young and inexperienced," said Ford. "All of that criticism about my age … helped mold the political platform I had," said Ford.
Since his election, Ford has faced the challenge of trying to be heard as a young congressman in the minority party.
Ford said even on some partisan issues like gun control and campaign financing, Democrats and Republicans still desire political efficacy.
"In the end, we all pretty much want the same thing," said Ford. "I'm a Democrat, but I'm a Congressman first. No matter how much I hate your political views, no matter how much you hate my political views, I would never want to hurt one of your constituents."
Nevertheless, the "demise, incivility and conviction" in politics are examples of political corruption that, Ford said, are displeasing.
"[These have] damaged our ability to attract smart, visionary, and capable people," he added.
Ford referred to Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," reiterating one of King's point that everyone is connected and in the world for a common purpose.
"As corny and idealistic as it sounds, this system only works if good people get involved," said Ford. "Our challenge now is to figure out how we strengthen that mutuality."
All News Stories for Monday, April 10, 2000