Since he was a boy, Kylon Middleton ’95 has felt a pull toward something greater – a divine drive to follow the Lord and help guide his community to something better.
That passion led him to run for Charleston County Council in 2020 as a first-time political candidate. Powering through the obstacles of running a campaign in the middle of a pandemic, Middleton won both primary and general elections to become the first Black person to serve his specific seat on the council.
“The situation had become so dire in our country – the unrest, the social justice challenges. We were losing ground in just the level of respect of individual dignity regardless of Black, white, purple, red or blue,” says the Charleston native on why he decided to run. “I have a message of strong moral leadership, and I think that message, especially in the climate we now find ourselves, resonated with the voters.”
You could say that finding purpose through faith and service is in his blood: Middleton’s great-grandfather was the first pastor and founder of Greater Beards Chapel AME Church in the Eastside neighborhood of downtown Charleston, where Middleton attended services as a child. Middleton was just 8 when he too felt called to the ministry. He gave his first sermon at age 11 and at just 16 became a pastor at a church in North Charleston.
A desire to inspire others led him to pursue degrees in English and communication at the College with a minor in secondary education, leading to a career as a high school literature teacher and administrator in schools in South Carolina and North Carolina. He retired as an educator in 2014 to dedicate his time to the ministry at a church in Georgetown, South Carolina.
He pivoted, however, when he lost his close friend, Pastor and South Carolina state Senator Clementa Pinckney in the 2015 shooting at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, and returned to his hometown to help the community heal.
“I felt like that was a way of working through my grief,” he says.
Middleton joined on as a leader with the Illumination Project, which aimed to build trust between local police and the Black community. Then, in November 2015, he was appointed as pastor at Mt. Zion AME Church, less than a block from his alma mater, where the Illumination Project began to infuse his work.
“As the head of the church, it is my job to provide direction, and so we pivoted and started offering a ministry that can then become that bridge of trust, that bridge of transformation, that bridge of racial healing,” he says.
In recent years, Middleton has found himself reengaged with the College, particularly after President Andrew T. Hsu took the helm in 2019. Middleton serves on the African American Studies Advisory Board, the Student Affairs Advisory Board and as an advisor for the Lambda Psi Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
Much as he has done as a pastor and councilman, Middleton hopes to help the College become a leader in the sphere of equity, justice and inclusion.
“That’s not just for Black people, that’s justice across the board: for women, for equity and fairness as it relates to LGBTQ+ persons and every other group,” he says. “We have to make certain that we’re never in a position where there’s an ‘other’ at the College of Charleston.”
Photo by Heather Moran