I first heard Rommel Beckles’ name after HeadCount worked the JAY Z/Beyonce show in Atlanta.
Our outreach director Laurie Lenninger told me we had a great volunteer at the show who was interested in becoming a “Team Leader.” The twist was that he was from Barbados and not an American citizen and could not vote in the U.S.
I thought there was nothing more profound than someone who couldn’t vote here helping others exercise their rights, and expressing a love of democracy that way.
After a check to make sure it was legal in Georgia for a non-citizen to help register voters (it is) Rommel went through our screening. It quickly became clear that he was as enthusiastic and diligent as anyone who’d ever joined HeadCount.
On July 26th he worked the Mad Decent Block Party—a youth-oriented hip hop and EDM festival that travels from city to city. He asked a more experienced HeadCount rep every conceivable question. He wanted to know everything. On Facebook he posted: “Had a blast doing HeadCount and also can't wait to lead my own team.”
The next week he went through our Team Leader training, via phone or Skype with our staff.
On August 3rd, after reading through our Team Leader manual, Rommel sent a follow-up email with literally 15 questions. I was CC'd. In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen an email remotely like his.
Each question was a good one, and revealed a slight ambiguity in our materials. It showed he had read every word with earnest and scrutiny and was soaking in every aspect of what was to come.
Three days later, our volunteer coordinator Tappan Vickery received an email that shocked us to the core. It said Rommel had been hit by a car while walking, and had been killed. It included a link to a short news story, with few details other than that he had been walking alone on the middle lane of an interstate highway, wearing dark clothing. The location of the accident was 40 miles from his home.
It makes absolutely no sense.
I did some Internet searches and learned more about Rommel. He was 26 years old, and had a bachelors degree in aeronautics from Embry-Riddle University, one of the top aeronautics schools in the country (the school people attend to become professional pilots). He had a pilots license himself, and was also part of the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport “Host Volunteer” program.
He had his own website (http://www.rommelcbeckles.com/), where he described himself as having a “burning desire to succeed,” and being “highly motivated and dedicated to hard work.” He worked full-time as a Quality Assurance Complaint Coordinator in the healthcare industry. He’d also been a recruiter and had a record for highest number of applicants interviewed.
In college, he served on the executive board of the Caribbean Students Association, and was a disc jockey at the campus radio station.
Rommel Beckles was—is—the American Dream incarnate. We are honored that someone like him wanted to be part of HeadCount.
The questions he presented after reading our manual, just a few short days ago, will stay with us, and help us improve our manual and training. Rommel made HeadCount a better organization with just one email. It’s incredibly painful to think what he would have brought to HeadCount and the world if not for this tragic and simply unexplainable incident.
When I asked Tappan and our Athens Team Leader Racheal Griffin-Jackson for a few words about Rommel, they both described him in similar terms.
"I met him at the show, I was immediately charmed by his sweet smile, his clever wit, good-natured competitiveness and his warmth," Racheal said.
Tappan described a phone call in which Rommel laid out strategies for gaining a presence on college campuses, and making the most of National Voter Registration Day. "At end of this conversation I realized I was smiling the whole time," Tappan said. "HeadCount searches tirelessly for volunteer leadership, and Rommel raised the bar for my expectations."
We’ll miss you Rommel. You left us way too soon.