Gianno Caldwell is a staple in programming at Fox News Channel and Fox Business Channel, also appearing on CNN, Headline News, Black Entertainment Television, and contributing to The Hill newspaper.
Before his breakout media success, Caldwell built his life around the mantra “no one can stop you but you.” And he learned this the hard way, grinding through a turbulent childhood.
Born to a mother who later abused crack cocaine and heroin, Caldwell, an African-American, grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a drug, gang-infested and crime-ridden neighborhood. Inspired by his entrepreneurial grandfather, Caldwell escaped long odds by chasing his dreams and never ceding ground.
Learning from the difficulties his grandfather faced building a small business despite over-regulation and taxation in Chicago, Caldwell now lends his voice to Republican causes. He’s founder and partner of Caldwell Strategic Consulting, a bipartisan lobby and consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that works for local, state and federal candidates, including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Against this backdrop of tremendous success in the wake of tough circumstances, it’s no wonder that Caldwell took umbrage when Richard Fowler, a co-panelist and Democrat on Fox News — also an African-American — tried to claim he was from Chicago and truly understood the plight of the urban poor.
“Bruh! You’re from Evanston,” Caldwell corrected, pointing out that Fowler’s hometown is far removed from the blight of Chicago’s urban core. Evanston is a wealthy, majority-white suburb, with income and property values above the state and national medians.
That exchange was sparked by President Donald Trump’s tweet last month that he would “send in the Feds” to Chicago if the city didn’t see improvement against violent crime. The “Bruh!” banter went viral, ricocheting across social media, especially in the Chicago market — garnering at least 8 million views.
“I said, ‘This is all good and fun, this is going viral, people love it, but I think there should be some purpose out of this,’” Caldwell told Opportunity Lives. “This isn’t a partisan issue, this is a real life issue where people are facing dire consequences on a day to day basis.”
Caldwell brainstormed with Fox contributor Eboni Williams, another African-American Millennial raised in challenging circumstances who found success as a lawyer and TV legal analyst. Williams, a political independent, proposed that she, Caldwell, and Fowler, launch a speaking tour to uplift young people in Chicago. Even though Fowler had taken some heat online, he was happy to join. Williams, Caldwell and Fowler named the campaign the “The Power Within Tour.”
“After I saw Gianno and Richard’s ‘Bruh clip,’ like everyone else I thought it was hilarious and some much-needed comic relief around an otherwise distressful American reality,” Williams said in an interview.
“I said that while going viral was cool, what would be much more important to me is if we took that visibility and capitalized on it in a way that brought hope and positivity to the communities we often speak about on-air,” he added.
Williams suggested the trio go to four or five schools over a couple of days to spread the message that success needn’t be limited by where you start in life.
“We wanted to spread the message that the power to create positive change and be academically and professionally successful lies within each student, regardless of background and circumstances,” he explained. “After the call, we took action by booking schools, flights and drafting marketing materials. That’s how ‘The Power Within Tour’ was born.”
The three funded the tour out of their own pockets, and took their message to Hirsch Metropolitan High School, George Westinghouse College Prep and Living Word Christian Center on March 9-10.
“We all got these really unique stories that I think brings together a cohort of different personalities,” Caldwell said. “We might not all agree politically, but the one thing we all agree on is that we can’t wait on the government… And we also believe it doesn’t matter your current circumstances, they don’t dictate your outcome.”
Caldwell and Williams toured one of Chicago’s most blighted neighborhoods, plagued with boarded houses, high poverty and unemployment. “I think there’s a larger message in all this to help the youth and also building up our inner cities,” Caldwell said. “Both parties have failed in inner cities, but we can’t wait for the government to save us … government is not my savior.”
The trio also spoke at Fenger Academy High School — the troubled institution highlighted in the “Chicagoland” series on CNN. The entire student body heard them speak. Caldwell said they sat down with the principal and assistant principal, who told them some of the students are parents of two or three children. Many of their students had been survivors of gunshots.
“There are some really horrendous stories about what’s happening in Chicago,” Caldwell said. “As a black man I feel like I’m supposed to be helping, I should be lending my voice and my experience to these kids so they don’t have to experience the things that I experienced or so that they don’t feel that hopeless. Chicago is just one area, there’s a whole slew of areas.”
Caldwell said that during “The Power Within Tour,” organizers attempted to stay away from politics, though the students knew of the speakers’ political affiliations. He said the students themselves didn’t seem to mind that they were from Fox, though some of the teachers and administrators peppered them with questions about the network.
On balance, Caldwell said the students responded positively and many have followed up with requests for mentorship and advice.
After returning home, Fox News featured “The Power Within Tour” on the popular program, “The Five.” Caldwell said he hopes the tour can continue in some way, and the team is considering their next steps.
This article was originally posted at OpportunityLives.com.
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for American Enterprise Institute scholar Edward Conard. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.