I HATE campaign endorsements and the importance that student leaders campaigns place upon them. I have to start off the article by saying this. It doesn’t matter who vouches for your or says great things about you because you randomly asked them. What matters is you: your campaign strategy to engage your voters, your plan for the school, your work ethic and personal brand. Those aforementioned qualities speak louder than words ever could. However, we saw a definitive reinvention of the wheel when it comes to HBCU Elections. And, of course, it’s been ushered in by FAMU.
FAMU has always been the gold standard for campaign season. From the breathtaking graphics and cutting-edge events to the out-the-box campaign themes and unheard of campaign strategies, FAMU clearly sets the tone for how elections are run. And, a definitive standard was set by SGA President and VP Elects Xavier Mcclinton and Carrington Whigham. Many factors of their campaign are noteworthy, but the way they utilized endorsements and celebrity to get their point across was brilliant. All student leaders aspiring to run for positions and those that are running in the fall due to COVID-19 should take heed to what they did.
One of the noteworthy aspects of the “FAMU First” campaign was the Homecoming & Events Plan graphic that they released. Within the graphic you saw a breakdown of what was an outlook on their ideas to utilize their resources to ensure that FAMU’s homecoming was quality as well as other factors of the year. A portion of their Homecoming plan truly stuck out to me. The list of artists for a possible homecoming concert was noteworthy, as they polled students on what artist they wanted to see and put it out for public consumption so their pool of voters could see the thought going into their planning.
“Honestly, we’ve started planning (homecoming),” VP Elect Whigham said in response to notable FAMU social media influencer Hollywood on an unofficial Presidential Debate Instagram Live, “We actually sent out a survey like ‘what we want, what we like, what would you like to see, and who would you like to see in what form or fashion and in what way?’ So, we are ready.”
The move was brilliant, answering one of the burning questions that exists in the mind of most HBCU students and showing a capacity to do the job effectively. But, only looking at the homecoming side of the graphic doesn’t tell the whole story. On the right side of the graphic it says:
“Establish a FAMU Guest Series with major celebrities.”
This, ladies and gentleman, is where history started to happen.
The FAMU First campaign dropped their first surprise guest on Friday, April 17th. They announced that Keke Palmer would be joining in on their IG Live on what was coined the “Orange Table Talk”. During the talk, Palmer would interview them about their time at FAMU as well as generally interact with them. The moment was surreal. The HBCU community at that moment was put on notice about Mcclinton and Whigham’s campaign. Palmer even said to the 1,000+ viewers of the live, “In the words of ‘True Jackson VP’: let’s welcome the new VP and President!”
Both Mcclinton and Whigham forewarned that Palmer wasn’t the only celebrity that they’d be interfacing with. To start off the week and the last phase of campaigning, they announced that NBA and Florida legend Dwayne Wade would be joining them for their “Hot Ones” Instagram Live. The moment itself was out of left-field and totally unpredictable. All eyes were on the SGA duo. They used the moment to tell more of their story and even speak in a more elongated fashion about their homecoming plans.
“For student body president y’all have my vote, but as future leaders outside of college y’all have my vote.” Wade said after listening to their plans for homecoming and student events. The live was viewed by 48,000+ people. These soundbites from Keke Palmer and Dwayne Wade meant more than an endorsement from 20 student leaders.
Both of these occurrences signaled an amazing strategy, one that was more valuable than asking them to do a one off fifteen second rushed endorsement video as their escape from quarantine. They were able to engage with these notable influencers within our community. It was almost as if we were a fly on the wall for how both Mcclinton and Whigham would approach a celebrity speaker for their intended Guest Lecturer series. We saw them win over the adulation of Keke Palmer and Dwayne Wade.
But, more than anything, it showed that they could do the job. Look at it like this: they were able to secure two celebrities to talk on their IG Live. Imagine them with time, a venue and a budget. What amazing things could they make happen? Actions speak louder than words and the ways that they were able to use their resources and connections to make these moments happen validated them. It showcased their clear electability. It showed promise for what a “FAMU First” tenure would look like.
This moment cemented them as one of the top campaigns in HBCU History. There’s only so many ways you can reinvent the wheel. The FAMU First campaign did more than that though. They destroyed the notion of what an endorsement is supposed to be and recreated it to fit into their election strategy. Now, they sit on top of the highest of the seven hills as the two most powerful student leaders.
Student leaders, please take heed to the “FAMU First” campaign. They were about that action and not just words. They were strategic about their moves and used every situation that they could to tell their story. And, properly telling the story about how you’re fit to serve will always bring you dividends.