By Olivia du Bois, ’22

At the School of Professional & Continuing Studies many students go looking for opportunity, but for others opportunity comes knocking — or in the case of Jackson Knox, ’12, it comes advertising.  

Two years after graduating from the University of Richmond in 2012 with a BA in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law (PPEL), Knox began working as the Outreach Coordinator for the University of Richmond Bookstore. As a UR employee, Knox was eligible to use tuition remission benefits at SPCS, where he earned his Political Campaign Management Professional Certificate in the fall of 2018. Knox discovered the program through an online advertisement.

The Political Campaign Management Professional Certificate consists of six modules completed over a 15-week term. Each module focuses on a different aspect of political campaigning including: political behavior, the contemporary American electoral system, campaign management, campaign finance and ethics, political communications and direct voter contact and the ground game. 

Knox found the program very rewarding and said his participation gave him both the knowledge and confidence to launch his own campaign for the Henrico County School Board in the Brookland District this past election season. 

Although Knox lost the election to Kristi Briggs Kinsella, he earned an impressive 42 percent of the votes. He emphasizes that he is “not discouraged at all by losing.” Knox explained that the campaign was successful considering the challenges he faced as a young candidate who had lived in the district for only six years. The support he received and the community connections he made reflect the impact of his campaign.

Knox has reason to consider his campaign a success beyond vote count. “It’s not everyday where you can have a 29-year-old African American millennial male run for office,” he said. With a nod to the future, he added, “I hope I can serve as an example for other young people to get involved in the process and to really take the torch.”

The Brookland district has the largest Hispanic population in Henrico County and has seen a rise in the African American population, as well. As a young candidate running against an opponent with children attending schools in the district, Knox knew he stood at a disadvantage but felt his candidacy would resonate with the demographics of the region and serve as an opportunity to bring more people into the fold. 

During his time at SPCS, Knox met a number of people who influenced the success of his campaign. Without the guidance of program coordinators and instructors Garrett Stern, Fred Asbell and George Chieffo, Knox said he would not have had the confidence to step onto the playing field.

Knox also met his campaign manager, Edwuan Whitehead, at SPCS. Whitehead knew right away that Knox was a stellar candidate, and said he was honored that Knox had asked him to be a part of his campaign: “There were so many things that I saw for him as a school board candidate and how passionate he was about it.”

Whitehead had worked on political campaigns before and had studied at programs similar to the one at SPCS, but, after going through the certificate program with Knox, Whitehead said that he just felt ready for the campaign. Whitehead is currently working on a presidential campaign for the 2020 elections. Knox referred to Whitehead and his communications director Matt Yakob as his backbone during the campaign. 

Most of the students in the program work on local and state campaigns, said Garrett Stern, senior program manager for the Political Campaign Management Professional Certificate program. Knox is one of two students who went on to become candidates. 

Stern cited Knox’s track record of community involvement as a strength during his campaign. As one of the youngest appointees and the only black male ever appointed to the Henrico County Grievance Panel and Henrico County Library Advisory Board, Knox touts an impressive record. 

His leadership in and passion for the community carried over into his campaign, during which Knox excelled at what program instructors call the “ground game”: making direct contact with voters to activate the support base. Knox was willing to knock on doors and call people for donations, a rare find in a candidate, Stern said. He also held almost 30 meet-and-greets making personal connections with his voters — a point of pride for Knox.

Other students from the program attended Knox’s campaign events to show support for their classmate. This encouragement from within the class is typical and speaks to the camaraderie of the program, Stern explained.

Knox attributes much of his campaign’s success to the program and the skills he gained from it. He is grateful for all the voters, colleagues, friends and family who believed in him and hopes that they will continue to believe for years to come. 

Knox plans to continue his political career and is “thrilled to see what other opportunities are in store.” Looking back on the campaign he said, “I'm glad I didn’t hesitate and I’m glad I at least took a shot and took a risk.”