WATERLOO - A Waterloo native helped introduce Michelle Obama before her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Monday.
Travis Rejman spoke on a biographical video to reshape the nation's image of Michelle Obama, who later took the stage to testify why husband Barack would make a great president. The film, narrated by Michelle's mom, Marian Robinson, highlighted her daughter's working-class upbringing on Chicago's south side.
Rejman, 33, worked directly with Michelle Obama from 1994 to 1995 as part of Public Allies, an organization that mentors young people and teaches them about public service work. He was one of 40 young people selected from across the region and credits Obama with leading him to his career path.
"I think Michelle has a gift for seeing the potential in people they don't even know is there," said Rejman, executive director of Goldin Institute, during his 20-second clip aired Monday.
"Where you came from or what your background was didn't really matter," Rejman later added. "It mattered what you wanted to do. The fact that I was some kid with no resume coming pretty fresh out of school in Waterloo, Iowa, didn't matter to her at all. She was willing to take a chance on me."
Rejman wanted to expand on his previous experiences with environmental organizing - like talking to high schoolers about recycling or going door to door drumming up support for legislative petitions - to partner local residents with business, education or government sectors.
"Right now the government almost never works with business and education and religious and community groups," Rejman said.
In 2002 Rejman founded his own nonprofit organization, the Goldin Institute, to further grow his innovative concept. The Goldin Institute builds grass-roots partnerships for global change in areas of poverty alleviation, environmental sustainability and reconciliation. It is active in about 60 different cities in nearly 40 countries.
People like Rejman are exactly why Obama left her job at a big law firm for a career in public service, Michelle Obama said during her speech Monday.
"In my own small way, I have tried to give back to this country that has given me so much," she said. "I believe that each of us … has something to contribute to the life of this nation."
And reminding people how much they share and how alike they are remains the heart of her husband's campaign, Michelle Obama said.
"Our belief in America's promise, our commitment to our children's future - he knows that thread is strong enough to hold us together as one nation even when we disagree," said Michelle Obama, before referencing the Iowa's first-in-the-nation 2008 caucuses in early January.
"It was strong enough to bring hope to people who came out on a cold Iowa night and became the first voices in this chorus for change that has been echoed by millions of Americans from every corner of this nation."
Rejman is rooting for the Obamas in their bid for the White House.
"They are an incredibly dynamic, generous and down-to-earth couple," Rejman said. "I think Barack Obama will inspire people across the country to get involved in their communities and make sure that government can play appropriate roles - not a hand out, but a hand up - in helping people achieve the American dream."
Rejman graduated from East High School in Waterloo in 1993, and attended a semester at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. He majored in comparative religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago.
He resides in downtown Chicago with his wife, Gia, and sons, Maxwell, 4, and Enzo, 3 weeks.
Rejman's parents, Dan and Bonnie Rejman, moved from Waterloo to Kiel, Wis., a few years ago.
Contact Tina Hinz at (319) 291-1484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.