Sen. Brown talks raising minimum wage, health care, aid for veterans

Sen. Sherrod Brown listens as people share their experiences as workers and veterans during a stop in Florence, South Carolina, on his “Dignity of Work” tour March 1, 2019.

Valerie Royzman

COLUMBIA, SC — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown visited South Carolina on Friday, calling for higher wages and affordable housing, advocating for better health insurance and stressing the importance of resources for veterans.

Brown stopped at Fast Forward Community Technology Center in Columbia and interacted with its clients, many of them African-American veterans. Just over a dozen people attended. The nonprofit center provides job training and education assistance for clients, some of whom are transitioning out of homelessness.

“No matter what you do for a living, you should be paid an adequate wage,” Brown said, and repeated several times that “one job ought to be enough” to live well in this country.

Brown has yet to announce his candidacy for the 2020 election.

South Carolina marked the fourth and final visit on Brown’s “Dignity of Work” tour, which has taken him to the first four Democratic primary states.

Connie Schultz, a Kent State professional-in-residence, journalist and Brown’s wife, stood by his side. She has attended every visit on the tour.

Gillet Hood, a 21-year-old who attends Midlands Technical College and one day dreams of becoming a computer scientist, told Brown about his experience searching for a job when he was homeless.

“What was the most important thing you learned?” Brown asked.

“Workers’ integrity —  to me, that is when you get the job, you’ve got to keep the job. If you’re honest with people, and they know you’re being honest, they’re going to have faith in you. Workers’ integrity is you’ve got to be legit with your boss.

“I feel like a lot of people call in sick when they’re not. … That’s what I was doing when I first started working.”

Hood works at Taco Bell and Barnes and Noble in order to pay for college.

Brown took notes of stories around the room. He loved the term “workers’ integrity.”

“Yes, I do want that —” Hood said in reference to Brown running for president, and before he could finish his sentence, the senator walked up to shake his hand and said he was impressed with his story.

Darious Sanders, a Marine Corps veteran and a client at Fast Forward, said losing his home time and time again “takes a toll.” He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures and other mental health issues after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Coming home from Afghanistan wasn’t easy,” Sanders said. “To be honest, from 2013 to 2017, seven suicide attempts.”

Sanders, 31, said he struggled with the VA to find work, and he was limited in the jobs he could work when his seizures were especially bad (two to three a day).

Other people in the area don’t want to work minimum-wage jobs because they can’t afford housing or support their families, he added.

Sanders sends three letters to Congress every year in hopes of drawing attention to these issues. He writes poetry about it, too.

Schultz asked if she could read some of his work.

“It baffles me how many veterans live on the streets today. … How dare you turn your back on men and women who stared death in the face?” Sanders read aloud.

The room fell silent. Schultz wiped tears from her cheeks.

After Brown’s visit, Sanders said he feels important knowing Brown came to South Carolina to talk about raising the minimum wage and fighting for better health care in a timely fashion.

“It’s important that you stick to what you say,” Sanders said, which he thinks Brown has done so far and he wants to see more of.

Hood said it means a lot for Brown to travel all this way to speak to his community.

“It seems that he’s pro-veteran, and I like that,” he said. “I’m looking forward to doing more research on him. I think he’s an honest man, he’s good, and you know, it depends what I see in the future.”

Brown said that “already, this whole ‘Dignity of Work’ listening tour has encouraged other candidates for president. … It’s who I am and what I fought for my entire life.”

Brenna Bernadin, the program director at Fast Forward, said the voices of the center’s clients often go unheard, and she appreciated Brown came to listen.

“They are working; they are trying to work,” Bernadin said. “For one reason or another, it’s taking too long or it’s not really clicking. So I think for him coming today, it helped them realize that what they say does matter.”

Brown continued his tour with a meet and greet at the home of Don and Carol Fowler, former Democratic National Committee members who have already hosted events for several presidential contenders.

Brown also met with the Florence County Democrats and Mayor Stephen Wukala at the Hyatt Hotel in Florence.

Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker is also in South Carolina this weekend.

Brown will speak to the Democratic Women of Darlington County at Jerusalem Baptist Church in Hartsville at noon on Saturday. He later will attend the Dorchester County Democratic Party’s oyster roast at the Summerville Country Club.

Valerie Royzman is the editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected].