Senate Opportunity Coalition in Full Swing

It started with a conversation about cornbread and ended with a vision of hope. That is the best way I can describe the first time I met Minnie Johnson, a remarkable woman who continues to push forward even though life sometimes gets rough.

One of the best parts about my job is that I get to travel the state of South Carolina and meet remarkable people. It is from hearing their concerns that leads me to create legislation that people will actually benefit from. This is what led me to meeting Minnie and learning about what a community can do if given the right tools to succeed.

Minnie, like myself, grew up in an impoverished area. She went to prison in Spartanburg for selling drugs to support her family and when she was released, she had an extremely difficult time keeping a job. Businesses would hire her and when the background checks came back, they’d fire her. Without a way to earn a living, she frequented soup kitchens to get her meals, and it was there that she heard about Monarch Café. The Café is a part of the Northside Initiative, which is seeking to revitalize Spartanburg through private and nonprofit partnerships.

Monarch Cafe offers life skills classes that last approximately 15 weeks and teaches individuals what they need to do to get back on their feet. Minnie, realizing that this was an opportunity for her to improve her life, took the classes and passed-this was her first time committing to anything. Soon after, she was hired by Monarch Café and has been with them since 2014. Fast forward to today: She now has her own car and is saving to buy a home. And more importantly, her success is not owed to a government program, but to her taking advantage of the opportunities that were given to her.

It is my goal to create more success stories like Minnie’s through the Senate Opportunity Coalition, which I launched today alongside Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), and Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). The coalition seeks to find new, conservative solutions to combat poverty and the ripple effect it has on a community. Each of us has unique challenges in our own state when it comes to poverty. Whether it’s poverty in Native Alaskan villages or inner city poverty in Miami, we are all looking for solutions that may benefit those we represent. We realize that there is no one legislation that will fix all the problems, and that is why this coalition is in it for the long haul. The fact of the matter is that poverty is an old issue that we need to have a new conversation about. Right now, our efforts are akin to trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It hasn’t worked the last 20 years, 50 years, and it won’t work in the next 20 years. The moment we stop accepting new ideas is the moment that we really fail.

My conversation with Minnie only reinforced my belief that we owe it to strong individuals like her to continue seeking ways to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. For people who live in distressed communities, opportunity is like the light house in the middle of a dark stormy night. They can see it from their boat in the middle of the ocean, but the shore remains out of reach due to the storm around them. It is my hope that the Senate Opportunity Coalition will be the lifeline that reels them into safety and ushers them to the shores of success.

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