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How Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II is inspiring change

‘Progress is possible when you focus on solving a problem,’ Lt. Gov says

DETROIT – Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said he wants to make his family and the state proud of the work he does every day.

In 2019, the native-Detroiter became the first African American to be sworn in as Michigan’s lieutenant governor.

As a public servant and role model, Gilchrist said he doesn’t take any of his responsibilities lightly.

When he was 5-years-old, Gilchrist’s family was the first on his block to have a personal computer -- thanks to his grandma Doris, a social studies teacher in Detroit.

He said the computer ignited his passion for technology and government.

“My parents let that machine be mine to control,” Gilchrist said. “It gave me confidence that I could make it do what I wanted it to do.”

He said it was that upbringing that shaped him as a person and as a leader.

“My dad worked for the federal government,” Gilchrist recalled. “My family has a very traditional Black migration story after the war coming up here to work.”

Gilchrist was born and raised in Detroit before the family moved to the suburbs, where he went to high school.

“When I moved to Farmington from Detroit, I was the only Black kid in my school. So I -- for better or worse -- have grown accustomed to having to navigate those kinds of waters and recognizing that my accident will not only lead to judgment of me but will lead to judgment of my people,” Gilchrist said.

He said spending half of his childhood in Detroit and the second half in the suburbs made him realize the positive impact of connecting communities.

“I think it’s so important to make sure that we all can move forward in a more prosperous way and I think I bring that to any conversation that I have about the future of our communities,” Gilchrist said.

His parents believed in a strong work ethic and made sure he had the same foundation growing up.

“I think all of us exists to change the world for the better,” Gilchrist said. “I believe that there are -- because of my experiences, because of my background, because of the things that I’ve been able to learn and do -- I think there is a unique change that can happen in our communities in our state, in the nation and in the country that I am responsible for making happen. I’m comfortable with the the the label ‘changemaker’ is as long as I live up to it and actually make a change for the better.”

Now as a father of three, he sees firsthand how important it is to lead by example.

“I think now this position, being able to be the first Black lieutenant governor, to be the highest ranking Black person to ever sign a bill into law in the history of the state of Michigan, I think about this in the same way that our now Vice President Kamala Harris thinks about in terms of saying that she talks about her mother taught her that even if she’s going to be the first, make sure she’s not the last, and so I think about that in my own service.”

Part of that service included speaking out about what he saw happening in Detroit when the coronavirus outbreak began. Gilchrist now heads the state’s Coronavirus Task Force, addressing the racial disparities and why the crisis hit people of color in Detroit the hardest.

RELATED: Michigan COVID-19 data: Cases and deaths by race, ethnicity

“How this virus showed up in our state and how it ravaged certain communities in the Black community -- 14% of state population were 41% of people who died in March and in April of 2020,” Gilchrist said. “I said goodbye to 27 people in my life. Most of them are Black people. But the inspirational part of that, the flip side of that is that progress is possible when you focus on solving a problem.”

He said he takes pride in being a problem solver and that he believes it’s the key to inspiring real change, but to move forward, there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

“Progress is is more representative of the fact that we have a path to opportunity to prosperity for more people for more people of color,” Gilchrist said. “We have so much work to do because there are still barriers, old and new, that stand between people and progress.”

Gilchrist said when he graduated from the University of Michigan College of Engineering in 2005, the thinking was that you had to leave Michigan to pursue your dreams, but now he wants to continue to show young people across Michigan who have been educated here that their futures can be here too.

More: Black History Month stories


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