Joseph Cummings, better known to his followers as Pastor, decided one day to run for president. It was when I became his campaign manager that I realized the man, in fact, had very little political experience indeed. It would have been nothing short of a miracle that we even maintain the campaign all the way until that coming November. In those following months, I learned a lot about faith, and perhaps the fact that miracles can happen.
Joseph Cummings was his name, but the title he came to be known by- The Pastor– was the one repeated over and over until he became a vaguely known household name. I’d like to say it was my idea to have him run under such a moniker, but alas, he was addressed as pastor for long before he ever began his campaign for president. Before he came my way, he was your average Baptist preacher from the panhandle, and seemed to be loved and supported by his parish- not a stretch for anyone in such a region or position. Current events turned his voice from the biblical to the political- topics not too distant in his case- and the call for him to run for office grew. Of course, like any proud man with unwavering support on his side, he announced his bid for president.
For myself, and likely any other Floridian outside of Cummings’ little pocket of support, there was nothing to know of the man. Fortunately for me, his newly purchased RV-turned-Tour bus and entourage came that summer day to Tallahassee. As much as the Bible Belt is known for its upward momentum, I suppose The Pastor realized that his little town was not a place to seek out people to aid in his hefty ambitions. That’s where I came in.
I’m not one to brag, but I was the class president of my high school for three years straight, starting as a sophomore. PJ, or President Jackson, I came to be known as to every face in the yearbook. In University, I took a more of a relaxed position as the secretary of the student government, allowing me enough time to work a part-time job between bouts of consuming the requisites of poli-sci degree. For my masters, I went on to research and write a dissertation on theoretical minimum campaign funds one could manage to get elected on for various levels of government. After all that, I was lucky enough to graduate in between election cycles, allowing me to discover the wonderful world of minimally-paid internships exchanging meaningless emails with other interns at vaguely similar NGOs.
The job posting for Pastor Joseph Cummings’ election staffers told me everything I needed to know; the man didn’t know what he stood for outside of a few canned bible passages, and that he had at least enough money to keep someone like me around until something came of his campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I know the Bible just as well as any other god-fearing individual, but it’s neither hellfire nor grace of God that will grow a campaign; the thing that does so is a clear-cut platform. I think I said something like that during the interview.
Yes, the interview, where I met the man himself, opposite me at the fold-out table of the RV. He was your ordinary white southern gentlemen, with a firm handshake, big smile, and even bigger personality. A clean-cut man with hints of gray around the edges to offer up a sense of authenticity. He looked into my eyes with said handshake and smile, and offered up a not-too-surprising take; “Ah, a fine young black man. We’ll need support of fellows like you to help us along.”
Regardless of what he meant, he was right; he needed me, or at least someone like me, as a campaign manager. We complemented each other. It was our differences that drew us together. Let’s be clear- it’s been a long time since I’ve had the place of mind to be convinced by things otherworldly, but I knew that I could nod along in agreement to just about anything as long as it went to the monthly balance due to my student loans. In return, I could direct him toward a platform that would make himself appealing to get the constituents on his side. It was a perfect symbiotic relationship of blind faith. With said concepts laid out on that tacky, hinged table, albeit in more marketable terms, I was offered the job.
Other things, surprisingly, were in motion besides my hiring. Joseph and his company soon rented office space midtown to run the campaign from. I forewent putting in my two weeks at my job, and went directly to my boss telling him I would not be back. From there, I went straight to the office to meet with Joseph and the existing members of his campaign. Walking through the doors, though, I immediately felt like a fish out of water- a black sheep you might say.
Joseph stepped out of the back room to save me from the staring eyes. “Ah, welcome,” he said, opening his arms wide in a gesture to draw me in. “Everyone, I would like for you to meet our newly hired campaign manager, Terrence Jackson. He’s a good local boy, learned here at the university even.”
I took Joseph’s hand in a rough shake before allowing myself to look back to the others, receiving some nodding and lightly clapping in my direction. Before anyone could make a move my way, The Pastor already had his hand at my back to bring me deeper into the office. “Let’s discuss game plan starting out, Terrence, my boy.”
The side room, serving as his office, was expectedly bare as a result of just moving in, save a cross at the back wall behind his wooden desk chair. He looked to it before taking his seat. “Well, we’ve got quite a journey ahead of ourselves, don’t we?”
Joseph leaned back in his chair and pushed himself around with his heels against the ground. “Terrence, I’d reckon we already know how things are gonna go.”
“In what way?”
“Let’s say I’m the shepherd of this flock of fine people,” he said, gesturing out the office window to the others. “But you’ll be my trusty sheepdog- uh, not that I think of you as an animal- well, at the very least, an extension of myself to take on some of the burden of this task ahead of us.” He seemed to conclude, and finally turned back to lock eyes with me in a hopeful smile. “And, of course, I would hope you’ll tell me if some of the flock is going astray, or if I unintentionally bring a wolf among the flock.”
“A few members of my parish back at home… you know… warned me of the unsavory sort of folk in politics these days. We don’t need any of that sort, do we?”
I shook my head. “No, sir. I believe-”
“We’re just starting out, my boy.” Joseph interrupted. “No need to get worked up at the moment, the primary is still a few months off, right? I’ve got a few calls lined up, so how’s about you step out and get to know some of the others, ey?”
I stood up from my chair as Joseph’s hand moved to his notepad and desk phone. “Can do, sir.”
Outside Joseph’s office was a middle-aged woman maneuvering a push vacuum over the short carpet between the entryway and the deeper confines of the space. I remembered her face from the interview the days previous, although it I had yet to be introduced to her in any manner. “Glad you could join us,” She said, perking up as I stepped out to take in the others. “Terry?”
“Terrence, ma’am.” I corrected, offering a hand out. “And… to whom do I owe the pleasure?”
“Sharon Cummings,” She said, returning the handshake. “I’m that wonderful man over there’s bride.” She said dreamily, sending a wink of an eye past me and through the doorway back to Joseph, who managed to take up and reciprocate the sign all while chatting to the person across the line. “I’m afraid I don’t know a good amount of politics, but believe me when I say I can pick a righteous fellow out of a group of dishonest ones. That’s why I told the husband to hire you.”
I stroked the back of my neck. “Well, I appreciate that, ma’am.”
Sharon propped her hands on the long handle of the device and nodded back to the rear of the office. “I understand Joseph likely already has you busy as a squirrel in fall, but perhaps you could help out Hank there?”
The wide man she pointed to was at the rear of the building, hoisting in a stack three of high of cardboard boxes on a dolly through the rear entrance. “I don’t see why not.”
Hank had just rounded the tight corner when I reached him. “Let me help you with that.”
“Ope,” The hefty man returned, seeming to manage just fine. “Don’t worry ya’ll self, I’ve got it just fine.” I backtracked a bit while he plopped the stack in a back corner. “I think I missed ya before, you’re the campaign idea guy?”
“That’s correct.” I said, watching the man brush his wide hands together. I held out my hand for a handshake, but found my knuckles ramming into his in a fist-bump.
“Good thing, an’ all.” He said while I stealthily massaged my hand at my side. “I was gonna’ try n’ do that job, but I realized I was over my head.”
“I’ll stick to managing the money… and, well, moving stuff around when needed.” He said with a shrug.
“Finances, fun.” I said, hanging around the man in hopes to get more out of him. “I was actually, in my University, the-”
“Hank-” A high-pitched voice called out from behind us both. “My dad will want the bookshelf from the truck to get all those books on, don’t forget.”
I turned about, looking for the source of the order. Sitting among other boxes upon a folding chair was a teenage girl, phone in hand, and feet propped up. “I’ll get ‘ya, don’t you worry.” Hank accepted, digging the dolly out from under the boxes. He moved to head out the door, and I followed.
“The daughter, I assume?” I asked, shadowing Hank back to the UHaul hooked to the familiar RV parked out behind the office building.
“That is her.” Hank replied nonchalantly, taking up the tall, wooden bookcase off its side with little effort. “Don’t be put off by Jess, she’s a smart girl, and doin’ good work for her dad, just like us all.”
“Ah-” I said, trying and failing to imagine a way I could physically help the man complete the task. I looked up to the sun and decided to wander back inside.
“Jess?” I said as I came inside. The teen stumbled slightly sitting up, stomping her feet on the ground loudly to make eye contact with me.
She offered up a well-practiced smile similar to her father’s my way. “Terrence, was it?”
“I heard from Hank there that you’re a part of this too?” I asked hopefully.
Her face turned back to the phone before mashing on the screen a few times. With a proud aura, she flashed the front at me, displaying a Twitter page with Joseph’s face in it. “Social media.”
“12k followers, not bad.” I praised, taking in the grainy photo. “You weren’t taken out of school for this, were you?”
“Been home-schooled since the beginning.” She said, pointing to Sharon, who was wiping down the front window. “Though, for High School, I’ve been taking online courses.”
“Well, seems like you’ve got a handle on things.” I said, standing up straight and looking around. “You know, I was a slight bit worried about your dad, but looking at it… he runs a pretty tight ship. Almost like you don’t even need me.”
“Huh, wait, what-?” Jess straightened up.
“I’m kidding.” I said, rolling my head back and forth. “There’s still a lot to be done.”