Andrew Gillum doesn’t quite recall why police were on his grandmother’s stoop the night he promised himself that he would never give them a reason to come looking for him. But he does remember the knock on the door.
It was 1980s Miami, and Metro cops had been to the family home in South Dade a few times already. Officers might have been there this particular evening because his parents’ oldest son had tried to slip the cops after blowing past a speed trap in a ‘76 Pontiac on a suspended license. Or it might have been one of the times an older brother was caught selling drugs.
The exact reason police had returned to the house at 14235 Jefferson Street escapes Gillum, who couldn’t have been more than nine or 10 at the time. What he can still conjure up, though, is the resolve he felt as he watched his mother close the door and cry.
“I kind of made up in my mind that I was never going to upset her like that,” Gillum, now the 39-year-old Democratic nominee for Florida governor, said in an interview. “That’s something you don’t really forget.”
Growing up in Richmond Heights, a black bedroom community tucked along the east border of the Florida Turnpike in the deep south of Miami, a young Andrew Gillum learned some of life’s greatest and hardest lessons. His mother, working three jobs Monday through Sunday from sun-up to sun-down, showed him the value of a buck and hard work. His grandmother baptized him in the teachings of Christ. And his five brothers, squeezed into a single home — in Andrew’s case two to a bed — taught him to fight for what was his and showed him the consequences of mistakes.
These experiences — and the life-altering struggles his family faced as they grew older — formed the foundations of a surprise Democratic campaign that promises to push a $15 minimum wage, overhaul the criminal justice system and expand publicly subsidized healthcare. If supporters believe the heart of Gillum’s surprise bid to claim the governor’s mansion is his authenticity, then its roots lie in the soil of a simultaneously rich and impoverished childhood in black Miami.
“I know too well what it meant growing up in the streets of south Miami,” says Gillum. “So much of that experience has informed who I am today.”
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