By: Debanina Seaton
Community engagement was a lesson Michigan Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist learned early on from his parents.
It was one of the many teachings he received that he later credits for making him a responsive and responsible leader and the first African American to become Lieutenant Governor in our state.
This Thursday, his upbringing, lessons and events he overcame in his life will be celebrated at the 4thannual Michigan Chronicle 40 Under 40 Awards from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the International Banquet & Conference Center in Detroit. Gilchrist will be receiving the Game Changer award in politics.
“I think that it is an image of opportunity,” said Gilchrist on how he views his role as Lt. Governor. “It is an incredible honor. It’s an opportunity for black kids to see someone who looks like them. I think it’s important when people see themselves reflected in leadership.”
Gilchrist was born in Detroit to an accountant mother and a father who worked for the Department of Defense. Having lived in Woods Circle area for a period, he said those formidable years were very important to him. Both parents were heavily involved with their community, and he learned collective action at a young age.
Moving from Detroit to Farmington, Michigan at 8 ½ years old, Gilchrist said he recalls being the only black child at Longacre Elementary School. He said his parents were intentional about coaching him through the transition, helping him maintain his identity and to be proud of who he is.
“I had to deal with things that a lot of black children deal with when they go through environments where they are the extreme minority,” said Gilchrist who recalled children rubbing his skin and touching his hair. Gilchrist said his parents made sure he was engaged in the city as much as possible, by participating in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program, visiting family or playing basketball at the Coleman A. Young Community Center. “My parents did a good job of supporting me and my identity.”
He had similar experiences in college. Before graduating from the University of Michigan in 2005 with degrees in computer engineering and computer science engineering, Gilchrist remembers attending during the Affirmative Action trial for Gratz v. Bollinger that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. During that time, Gilchrist said he helped organize student response by coordinating buses to travel to Washington D.C. for the trial in 2004.
In 2014, Gilchrist and his family moved back to Michigan from Washington and he began working for the city as Director of Innovation & Emerging Technology. In 2017, he discussed running for office with his wife, Ellen. In March of that year, Gilchrist launched his campaign for Detroit City Clerk but lost the race to incumbent, Janice M. Winfrey.
Despite the defeat, he went on to create the U of M Center for Social Media Responsibility at the Detroit Center, which encourages social media platforms and the public to help crack down on fake news and misinformation. Eventually, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s team reached out to him and in 2018, he became her running mate.
“Lt. Governor Gilchrist is a great leader who continues to make a difference in our state,” said Whitmer in a statement to the Michigan Chronicle. “He has spent his career finding solutions to problems and fighting relentlessly for policies that create more seats at the table.”
From Detroit youth to public official, Gilchrist said his message to others like him is to embrace everything that comes their way.
“Make sure that you’re taking all your experiences, to really embrace them and take them seriously,” said Gilchrist, “because you never know what you are being prepared for. I did not envision myself being a public servant.”
While he may not have envisioned it public service seems to be something Gilchrist was born to do.