Kevin L. Boyce is a Franklin County Commissioner who grew up in an extended family of modest means but one rich with life lessons on the value of love, hard work, education and second chances.
He attended 10 different Columbus City Schools before graduating from East High School. During a 2006 tour of the old neighborhoods he openly lamented the recent closing of a city-run rec center, saying, “If I didn’t have a rec center, I’m not sure what would have happened.” Another refuge of his youth: The home on Columbus’ east side where his Grandma, Melba Crews, lived for many years. “It’s where you went when things weren’t going well,” Boyce once said. “Grandma always took you in.’’
Boyce would overcome the poverty of his past and earn a Master’s Degree in Public Administration; land a seat on Columbus City Council where he improved city neighborhoods and finances; serve as managing director of a New York-based investment banking firm; lead a non-profit dedicated to improving public schools; serve in the Ohio House of Representatives; win an appointment to the job of State Treasurer of Ohio, all by age 40.
A Record of Advancing Policies That Provide a Hand Up
In his elected offices, Boyce focused on ways to spend public money wisely, expand opportunities for under-served communities, train workers for better-paying jobs and champion the need for access to affordable healthcare. As a Franklin County Commissioner, he helped to create Building Futures, an innovative program that helps prepare low-income residents for careers in the skilled construction trades. The program addresses two stubborn challenges facing the county – and much of Ohio: not enough family-sustaining jobs for young adults without a college degree and not enough people to fill good-paying jobs for welders, pipefitters, carpenters and other trades. Boyce hopes it inspires other jurisdictions to replicate it. Boyce also helped to author the “Rise Together” blue print for reducing poverty in Franklin County where he pushed for the creation of an innovation hub to research, vet, promote, and test “big ideas” in poverty reduction.
At home, he has successfully raised two young sons with many life lessons along the way.
When his oldest son, KJ, turned 5, Boyce began his nightly lessons in what he calls the Rules of Manhood. A few of the big Rules:
• Finish what you start.
• Always respect women, especially your mother.
• It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, that matters.
A Second Chance Fosters Generations of Successes
Boyce’s father was killed when he was just 7 years old. He credits his mother and grandmother for inspiring his success – and thanks teachers, coaches and his grandma for convincing a judge to give him a stern warning, not time in juvenile detention, after a street fight landed him in court. He was 16. The brawl began with Boyce defending a bullied friend but ended with a charge of aggravated rioting. His unblemished record, accolades from teachers and coaches and a heart-felt letter from Grandma resulted in a second chance.
Today, his oldest son attends Brown University on a scholarship. “When I think that I grew up in a house that didn’t always have electricity or running water, and now I have a son attending an Ivy League school, I hope I can use my abilities to help other kids get the opportunities they need to succeed,’’ he said.
Boyce became the first in his family to earn a college degree – a bachelor’s degree from the University of Toledo. It’s there he met political science professor Jack Ford, who would later serve as minority leader of the Ohio House of Representatives. Seeing Boyce’s affinity for public policy and passion to improve his community, Ford talked Boyce out of joining the military and into coming to Columbus with him. He eventually rose to become Ford’s chief of staff.
City Council Lays Foundation for Financial Acumen
In 2000, Boyce was appointed to Columbus City Council. During his nine years on Council, Boyce initially focused on youth and neighborhood issues, then worked his way up to chairman of the all-important finance committee where he oversaw adoption of the city’s $1.3 million annual budget – a spending plan that included money for rec centers and other neighborhood improvements. Columbus soon facing an economic downturn but Boyce found ways to protect services such as rec centers, opting to limit hours of operation not close them down.
Despite Columbus’ financial challenges, it was the largest city in the nation with a AAA Bond Rating from all three major bond rating agencies, a distinction that allowed the city to finance projects at a lower interest rate. Boyce also founded the Columbus Youth Commission, significantly expanded parkland and greenways, advocated for stronger civil rights laws (he wrote the city’s anti-racial profiling law) and championed policies that led to the creation or retention of more than 20,000 central Ohio jobs.
While on Council, he worked for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. Among the Foundation’s projects he championed was Project GRAD which allowed Boyce to advance his passion for providing a quality public education for children in economically disadvantaged communities. The program increased high school graduation rates and prepared graduates to succeed in college. During his tenure, KnowledgeWorks invested more than $100 million dollars in Ohio public schools.
His Statewide Debut, a Loss and New Opportunities
In 2009, Boyce ascended to the statewide stage when Gov. Ted Strickland appointed him Ohio Treasurer, making him Ohio’s first African-American Democrat to hold a statewide constitutional office. Armed with his public-sector experience from his days at city hall and the Ohio Statehouse and the business skills learned as head of Council’s finance committee, Boyce quickly began to make positive changes. He trimmed the Treasurer’s operating costs by 12 percent, slashed pension fund management fees by 63 percent and launched the nation’s first web training for treasurers’ continuing education. His management achievements earned him the distinguished partner award by the National Association of Securities Professionals. Boyce was also named Chairman of the Financial Literacy Committee for the National Association of State Treasurers.
Despite his achievements and accolades, Boyce did not win re-election. His opponent ran TV ads that falsely suggested Boyce is Muslim – ads widely viewed as among the most racist and dishonest in modern political history. “After the loss, I told my family that we had 24 hours to sulk, then get back to work,’’ Boyce said. He telephoned the Republican who defeated him and offered his cooperation during the transition. “He was surprised – and apologized for the tenor of the campaign,’’ Boyce said. “We get along pretty well today.’’
But the loss opened new doors. Investment banking firms such as Rice Financial called with job offers, impressed by his performance in office and dedication to public service. Boyce remains an investment banker today and holds two coveted securities licenses: Series 52, which allows him to engage in municipal securities exchange activities and Series 63 which entitles holders to solicit orders for any type of security in a particular state.
Boyce has received many awards and honors, some of which include: Ebony Magazine’s National Award “30 Leaders under 30;” the National Council of Negro Women’s Community Service Award; The Society of Black Professionals’ Achievement Award; the Outstanding Role Model Award from the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity; the Outstanding Public Service Award from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity; the Outstanding Service Award from the Franklin County Democratic Party; the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award; International Fire Fighters Outstanding service Award; The Distinguished Partner Award from the National Association of Securities Professionals; served as a delegate to the 2004 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions; was selected a United States Delegates to South Africa for the American Council of Young Political Leaders; and was honored in 2009 by Wilberforce University with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree for his distinguished career in public service, commitment to community, and dedication to higher education.
Boyce earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from University of Toledo and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Central Michigan University. Boyce is a Christian and a member of St. Paul AME church.
He is quick to dismiss the awards and honors and downplay how far he’s come from his humble beginnings. “Remember,’’ he said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, that matters.’’