Stand for Something
John Kasich


I know a guy named Albert Lexie, and for my money Albert is the heart and soul of America.  He dropped out of school when he was fifteen and took up shoeshining for a living.  That was his calling.  Albert's a little different than the rest of us.  He actually listens when he asks how you're doing.  You give him an answer.  He listens.  So, right there, he's different.

One Sunday afternoon, Albert was at home watching a telethon on Pittsburgh television, to benefit the children's hospital there.  And, watching, he fell in love with a little girl he saw on the telethon and with the thought of how he might help her, on Monday morning he went to his bank and withdrew every penny he had in savings.  Eight hundred bucks, give or take a couple pennies.  Albert Lexie took that money and went down to the hospital and gave them every last cent.  Hospital administrators found out about this, and a little bit about Albert Lexie, and they reached out to him and asked him to come shine shoes at their hospital.  To which Albert responded, "Look, I'm pretty busy.  I can give you two days a week."  Which is just what he's done--for the last twenty years.  He hops a bus for the half-hour trip to the hospital, straps on his tool box, which weighs about thirty pounds.

He's got all his stuff in there.  His brushes, his polish, and his special "magic" sauce that gives his customers that extra shine.  He goes from doctor's office to doctor's office, nurse's station to nurse's station.

Spend any kind of time in that hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays when Albert's working and you'll see doctors and nurses traipsing around without their shoes on.  He's become a fixture--an oasis for folks desperate to talk, to get their minds off whatever else it is that brought them to the hospital in the first place.

He charges three bucks for a pair of shoes, and he slips that money into his right-hand pocket because that's what he lives on, but he takes his tip money and slips that into his left-hand pocket, because that's what he means to donate back to the hospital.  Over the years, he's collected more than $100,000 in tip money, and he's used that money to help parents cover their bills and other attendant costs associated with their children's long-term care.  He was voted Pittsburgh's "Philanthropist of the Year" in 2000, and it was about time.  And, it was about leadership.

Guys like Albert Lexie are the heart and soul of this nation.  They move America every bit as meaningfully as Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan.  And it doesn't end there.  In our communities--big and small, rich and poor--we struggle with education.  The knee-jerk response is that we're not giving our public school children what it takes to meet the challenges of today, and in many schools that's unfortunately the case.  Not so at the Frederick Douglass Academy, a small public school in Harlem.  The school was shut down in the late 1980's due to excessive violence, but it has reopened in the middle 1990's with renewed promise.  It was still located across the street from a burned-out crack house, but it was now being run by folks with the vision to look past their surroundings.  Now, the kids don't go to school in their Britney Spears t-shirts, or in baggy pants "sacked" halfway down to their knees.  There's a dress code, and there's no wising off to the teacher.  Students say, "Yes, ma'am" and "No, sir."  There are no study halls or free periods or gut classes that encourage students to skate by on little effort.  If you do well on trigonometry, you get kicked up to advanced trigonometry.  They've got rules, and expectations, and if you mean to stay there you've got to meet them all.

And guess what?  The students are thriving.  They've gone from wondering where they're going to get their next meal to wondering where they're going to go to college.  The first graduating class in 2001, there were 105 graduates.  Out of that group, 104 went on to college.  The one student who didn't go to college became a Navy SEAL.  In 2002, there were 120 graduates and each and every one of them went to college.  And in 2003, they were 115 for 115--netting over $5 million in scholarships.  Not bad for a bunch of administrators and teachers dedicated to old-fashioned values like hard work and teamwork and discipline.  Once again, for good measure, that's leadership.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with the rest of us?  We're not Jesse Owens or Davis Love III.  We're not Albert Lexie or the administrators at the Frederick Douglass Academy.  So what about us?  Where is our shared ability to recognize and harness this type of leadership in our own communities, in ourselves?  Where is our responsibility to stand tall in the face of these low expectations?  For me, the answer comes in a book written almost two thousand years ago:  St. Augustine's Confessions.  It's a tough little book, written in the fifth century, but I take it with me wherever I go.  It's got a powerful message that I believe resonates here.  St. Augustine maintains that each and every one of us has a special gift, and that it falls to each and every one of us to unwrap those gifts and share them with the rest of the world.  I like that image a whole lot, because I look at gifts the like I look at stars.  have you ever seen an ugly star?  I never have.  They're all just magnificent.  You look through the telescope and see that some of them flame brightly in the night sky and some are so far off as to be nearly unrecognizable.  And every last one seems just about as special and magnificent as a thing can be, but none of them are quite the same.  That, to me, is a true gift.  We find them in the heavens, and we find them here on earth.  We find them in our friends and family, and we find them in ourselves.  And, significantly, we find them in our leaders.

Now, here's what I know, as sure as I set my pen to paper:  Discover your own gifts and you will give your life new meaning.  Find the courage to share those gifts with the rest of us and you will give all our lives new meaning.  I can't tell you what your gifts are, just as you can't pinpoint mine, but I can tell you they lie in wait.  Oh, they're out there, waiting for you to come upon them and put them to good use, and it is in the putting to good use of our unique gifts that we will rediscover our health and strength as a nation.  After all, we are all stars, in our own way.  We all shine uniquely.  We all share the power to grow and change and re-imagine the world around.  Find your gift and you will find your way.  Join a team.  Become a part of something bigger than yourself.  Throw in with all of the other stars in your community and help to form a giant constellation, built together on the back of courage and faith and determination.  And, above all, leadership.  Take charge.  If you see something happening that sets you off, rise up and do something about it.

Stand for something.

Kasich, former nine-time
U.S. congressman from Ohio,
speaks directly to the reader,
asking for a commitment to set
things right.  He describes a
"heat and haste" to American
life that disregards basic
values of decency and
emphasizes instant gratification
and winning at all costs.
Kasich mixes personal history
with a litany of examples of failed local and national leadership.


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