SOMESVILLE – I’m a sucker for a good story and Craig Hickman is a good story.
His face flashed across my computer screen as I was watching YouTube re-runs of the Democratic convention Wednesday morning. I was enjoying my second cup of coffee. The re-run was of an amalgamation of various colorful state nominations of Joe Biden the night before.
I particularly liked the fellow from Puerto Rico who did most of his monologue in Spanish.
There were some clunkers as well. Rhode Island featured a guy dressed in black who looked like an executioner holding a plate of calamari that looked like entrails. It was kinda gross.
When Maine’s turn came up, Craig Hickman appeared for a little more than 30 seconds. But it made its point without any gimmicks.
Maine Democrats chose a black delegate – in a state where African Americans comprise 1.7 percent of the population – to go on national TV and streaming services to nominate Joe Biden for president.
I did a double take. Who is this guy? And why hadn’t I heard of him?
Maine is a small state by population but a huge state by geography. Very few folks in Winthrop, Maine, has ever heard of Brian Hubbell. Likewise, very few folks on MDI has ever heard of Craig Hickman. “All politics is local,” as the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said.
But in Maine, that’s been forced to an extreme because we are so spread out. Nonetheless, we share like-minded sensibilities – our love for the land, the sea, our lakes, the animals – our guileless manner of doing business, our mutual trust, our respect for local businesses.
Hickman said he was living the American dream as owner of an organic farm on a lake, a road-side stand and a B&B, on the Quietside – the quiet side of Augusta. Here is his profile on the state website – https://legislature.maine.gov/legis/housedems/hickmanc/index.html
Had Maine gone the way of Rhode Island, we would have had a lobsterman in a bib crowing about the romance of fishing for these prized crustaceans. It would have been a pre-packaged shot out of the Maine tourism bureau.
We’re lucky we did not choose that path.
In our urgent need to classify other humans, we found a guy who is difficult to categorize.
He is a 52-year-old gay African-American who was adopted as an infant in Milwaukee, the class valedictorian in high school, a Harvard grad. He made his home in the whitest state in the union, made farming his calling and was elected to the Maine legislature in 2012. Like Hubbell, he is terming out but not before having served the longest term as a black man in the state legislature in Maine’s 200-year history.
He is a poet, an actor and author of books, including “Fumbling toward Divinity,” the tale of his quest to find his birth mother. The book was summarized by his publisher this way:
“After five years of searching, he shows up unannounced on his birth mother’s doorstep. Craig’s parents and sister are supportive of his search, as is Job, the Dutchman with whom Craig has shared the last four years of his life. Jennifer, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, happy that her son has found her, attempts to allay her guilt and shame for giving him up and tries to make up for lost time.
“Part mystery, part history, part family saga, part divination–all of it true–“Fumbling Toward Divinity” bears witness to the transcendent power of spirit and love in an age of terror and madness. It delivers an emotional intensity that fiction – by comparison – can hope to achieve.”
It’s not out of the realm to call Hickman a Renaissance Man. He writes a blog where you may infer the deep affection he had for his adopted father who instilled in him the confidence to achieve other worldly things for a black man in America. Hickman was lucky to have been adopted by a loving family. You may read his blog and delight in his journey. http://craighickman.blogspot.com/
Like every black man who grew up in America though, Hickman was the victim of police abuse – in Boston after the citywide manhunt for a suspect in 1989 when Charles Stuart falsely claimed his pregnant wife was killed by a black man.
Hickman was beaten by police in Roxbury before they learned he was a Harvard students and let him go. (Stuart committed suicide after it was disclosed he killed his wife for insurance money.)
Watch in his own words Hickman’s account at a Black Lives Matter gathering:
Choosing Hickman to represent us seemed to be Maine’s way of saying, “Don’t judge us too quickly and easily … we are a complex community of resourceful, hardy people known for individualism who abhor being facilely slotted into skin deep truisms .. re-invention of our social norms is a steady state for us.”
The man who held the country’s attention for 30 seconds embodied all those virtues and spoke for us in the way we feel about ourselves.