By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News
These days, you can take a non-stop flight from most Alabama cities to Washington D.C. But for Jalen Drummond, that journey took years of hard work that all started one cold winter morning.
Drummond was recently appointed as an adviser to Secretary Dr. Ben Carson with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His first day was Tuesday, Sept. 4., but his journey started long before.
A product of Wedowee, with a population of just more than 800, no red lights and two grocery stores, Drummond was much like your normal Alabama boy.
“My childhood days were spent making ‘mud pies,’ catching lightning bugs, picking plums and blackberries and drinking water from the garden hose pipe,” Drummond said.
While growing up, Drummond credits his mother and grandmother as being his two biggest influences.
“My favorite days were spent on County Road 1, a dirt road where my grandmother lived,” he said. “She was loud, loving and a disciplinarian. She could neither read nor write, had difficulty hearing and no formal education. However, she was one of the smartest and most selfless people I have ever met.”
During Drummond’s childhood, his mother alternated between working two to three jobs at a time while raising three children on her own.
“She never once complained and seemed to do it with complete ease,” Drummond said. “I definitely get my work ethic from her. The fact that she was able to do all of that – and not complain – makes her one of my heroes.
When it came to high school, even Drummond will admit that he wasn’t fully invested.
“I received B’s and C’s, regularly,” he said. “My folks didn’t have money and I knew if I wanted to go to a four year college, I was going to have to find a way to pay for it.”
One afternoon, he started researching online for scholarships and came across The University of Alabama forensics team webpage. He noticed that they offered full-tuition scholarships.
“While I had no competitive forensic experience, I was indeed a talker, and from my days emceeing the local beauty pageants and participating in 4-H, I knew how to do it well,” Drummond stated.
One cold winter morning during his senior year of high school, he and his mother drove to Tuscaloosa so that he could audition for a spot on the team.
He nailed it.
Drummond enrolled at the University of Alabama in August of 2014.
In August of 2014, he became a member of the University of Alabama’s speech and debate team.
“I was the only member of my class that the university recruited that didn’t have any prior experience,” he said. “Everyone else in my class came from schools that had money for speech and debate teams. My tiny, poor high school in Wedowee had no such thing.”
As a result, Drummond’s skills were not as developed as his fellow teammates. One weekend, the coaches prepared a mock tournament, for which Drummond spent countless hours preparing.
“Although I felt confident in my performance, I was devastated to find that I had placed last among my teammates.”
Despite discouragement, he resolved to recommit himself and reach the level of his teammates. He scheduled a meeting with one of his coaches, and used his feedback to target the areas in which he needed improvement. He started practicing more, scheduling after-hours coaching sessions, and reaching out to his fellow peers to get better.
“It was tough,” he said. “At a moment’s notice, I had to always be abreast of the latest current events. I was required to know everything from the latest crisis in Syria and Myanmar to the health care and DACA negotiations that were happening in Washington.”
While in Tuscaloosa, he was also a member of the Blackburn Institute, Director of Outreach for UA College Republicans and participated in The Other Club, a dinner debate society on campus.
Drummond was also selected by the Alabama Forensic Council to represent the University at the 41st American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, he finished first in the nation in the area of informative speaking.
“Being crowned a national champion my senior year made the entire experience that much more worthwhile,” Drummond said.
He graduated in May 2018 with a degree in political science.
After graduating from Alabama, Drummond interned with U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks). He also interned with Luther Strange’s campaign for U.S. Senate as well as the Business Council of Alabama before moving on to the White House.
“Thousands of individuals, many of whom are educated at Ivy League institutions and have connections to power, applied for one of these few coveted spots,” Drummond said in a Facebook post. “So, every single morning when I walked through the White House gates, I would pinch myself to ensure that this wasn’t a dream. I say that because never in a million years would I have thought that such an opportunity would be bestowed upon me, an average kid who was raised in rural east Alabama and educated at a poor county school system.”