He left Davidson twice, and now he’s changing Charlotte.

“We each have to find ways to put a little skin in the game. There’s nothing special about me; I just put my body on the line.”

When Braxton Winston ’07 showed up at the Charlotte protests following the death of Keith Lamont Scott Sept. 20, 2016, he felt like something was about to happen. Always passionate about making change and being part of the solution, Winston—and his fist—went viral.

Winston grew up with a view of the twin towers, visible from his mother’s bedroom window. His father, a NYC firefighter. So when his first semester at Davidson began with the events of 9/11—news he got as he left Professor Clark Ross’ Econ 101 class—Winston was affected in the deepest of ways.

“It was the perfect storm,” he said. “I became depressed and didn’t perform well. Playing football kept me in good shape, physically, but I wasn’t in good shape otherwise.”

He took a year of leave and attended community college back in New York before returning to North Carolina. This was the first of two times he would leave Davidson. The second came at a time when he was very sick with MRSA, and through the surgeries, heavy medication and quitting football, his studies suffered. He focused on getting well, took classes at UNC Charlotte, got his grades back up and returned to Davidson one more time.

Braxton Winston at protest
Braxton Winston stands in protest following the death of Keith Lamont Scott Sept. 20, 2016.

“Through it all, I always felt supported and respected by Davidson,” he said. “That’s saying something when you’re basically being kicked out of school and you still love a place. Davidson was different for me than for most other students, but my whole life has been shaped by it.”

Davidson always had Winston’s back. The first email message he received Sept. 20, 2016, was from the college.

“People I was out there for–people who live in the hood and deal with racism and all of those hard things–were telling me I was being dumb for protesting,” he said. “But my alma mater told me they were proud of me and if I needed anything, just let them know. People were telling me to sit down, but Davidson told me to stand up.”

Winston didn’t stop there. He ran for Charlotte City Council, and with overwhelming support from area leaders and a general belief that his voice was necessary for progress, he was elected—an election celebrated in Charlotte but also around the country and on social media. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and hip hop artist Common were among those who took to Twitter to show their support and enthusiasm for this new, much-needed voice in politics.

To the public, it may seem the Sept. 20 events launched Winston onto a new path full of promise. What they don’t know is that he spent over a week waiting to be able to pick up his children because the tear gas was still on his body. He drove his children to school in the mornings, reminding them to keep the windows open so they didn’t inhale it.

“But if I didn’t do it, who would?” he asked himself.

Serving on the City Council doesn’t pay much, and as Winston said, “is not a position for people like me.” He works hard to support his family—his wife whom he met in high school and their three young children. A professional videographer, he works for the Charlotte Hornets and at various contract gigs.

“People may be surprised to know I’m the working poor,” he said. “It’s a struggle. I have to ask myself all the time if I am supposed to do work to provide or if I am supposed to do the work of the people.”

Every day, Winston thinks about the ways his work can and will help Charlotte. And he also thinks about the message he’s sending his kids.

“I want my kids to know that Charlotte is willing to look in the mirror and be honest with itself,” he said.

“We are working to live out the potential of the idea of this nation. People should start from the same place with the same opportunities. Where we’re headed as a city is what matters most.”

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