RICHMOND, Va. —When he was just eight-years-old, Michael Futrell learned how to swim the hard way — his cousins threw him in the pool.
Twenty-four years Futrell is again learning how to tread water and keep his head afloat. The former Xenia High School basketball standout was elected to the Virginia General Assembly and is learning the ins and outs of politics while representing two of the most prominent counties.
“You spend a lot of time figuring out how things work,” he said. “A lot of this is built off of relationships. You have to figure out how to get everyone else on board.”
Futrell, a Democrat, used that mentality to win the seat in the House of Delegates by defeating a Republican incumbent, becoming the youngest African-American elected in its 395-year history, and the youngest to beat an incumbent. He didn’t place campaign signs anywhere. Futrell and his crew went door-to-door, speaking directly to voters.
“I was staying focused on the issues and for us, that’s what resonated to the people,” Futrell said. “It was funny how much support we got on both sides.”
Futrell represents portions of Prince William and Stafford counties in northern Virginia. Prince William County is just 20 percent minority while Stafford County, mostly Republican, elected an African-American for the first time. Futrell said his district has the lowest amount of minorities among minority delegates. The 2nd House district also has a rich military background. It includes the Quantico Marine Corps base which is home to more than 4,000 active duty Marines.
“It shows the changing face of politics,” Futrell said. “People understood this was not about trying to see our name in lights. It’s not about me. It’s their district. The people believed in us.”
He is not a typical politician. Futrell and his wife, Bernadine Futrell PhD, run Make the Future, a non-profit organization that works with youth through mentorship programs. His work in the community led to his candidacy.
“(In 2011) people reached out to us and asked me I was interested in running for office,” Futrell said. He was engaged and didn’t feel the time was right. But just in case the opportunity came up again however, Futrell prepared himself.
“I took over the (Prince William) Young Democrats in the area,” he said. “I built a strong organization. That helped the (campaign) process.”
He was approached in 2013 and decided to give it a shot.
“I didn’t necessarily plan on running for this seat,” Futrell said. “In my life, even if they strip me of my delegate title today, I would still be doing the same exact things I’m doing in the community, with or without the title.”
Futrell’s mantra is one of working together for the common good.
“At the end of the day there’s very few things that separate us,” he said. “For the most part you have a general idea of where we agree and disagree. The thing I ask, when this is over we figure out what are the key points we can work together on moving forward.”
Futrell learned the importance of working hard from his father Terry, who worked two jobs to make sure his children could go to college and have a better life. When Michael Futrell graduated from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., he became a teacher and taught fifth and sixth graders.
A few years ago, Michael Futrell became the legal guardian of his younger brother, Donnie. With a stable home environment and a guiding hand, Donnie Futrell was able to go from being a struggling high school freshman to an honor roll student who now attends Ferrum College in Virginia, and recently joined the National Guard.
It was that experience that inspired Michael Futrell and his wife, Bernadine, who received her doctorate from George Mason University, to help other children in their community succeed by founding Make the Future.
Now he’s working even harder to “make the future.”