Joshua LaFranca stood in the aisle of the Clinton College gymnasium and wiggled his arm in the air. The 9-year-old wore a tie-dyed T-shirt. His brother, Marcus, 10, stood beside him.
They stared at former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as he paced, answering what was supposed to be his last question on foreign relations.
Their mom had taken them out of school for the campaign event Thursday in Rock Hill.
Biden, who campaigned across South Carolina Wednesday and Thursday, walked up to the boys and said: “I’m going to let these two young men have the last word.”
The crowd was silent. He passed the microphone over.
Marcus LaFranca put his mouth up to the microphone. His voice was muffled.
“As president, how will you fix the damage Donald Trump has caused?”
The crowd of about 400 immediately cheered. People stood and clapped.
Biden smiled. After about 30 seconds, the crowd silenced.
“By making you vice president,” Biden said. The crowd started again.
“America is not a fairy tale,” Biden said. “From that brilliant young man to the oldest person in this room — here we are. We are in a position where everyone understands what the dark side looks like. Folks, it’s time we lift our heads up. Remember who we are. This is the United States of America.”
The crowd — many Clinton College students — stood and cheered. Biden for president signs filled the room. Music started. And people encircled the presidential candidate.
Biden had come to the historically African-American college as part of his journey. His message was consistent, that he’s the person to defeat Trump in the 2020 election. He talked about a range of topics as he interacted with a crowd that represented a diversity of ages and races.
Biden, who had a calm tone as he talked, became almost irate when he spoke about the Trump administration denying pleas for non-citizens who are trying to extend their time in the U.S. to treat severe medical conditions.
“They’re literally giving notice to these families that they have to unplug their kids, get them out of the hospital and take them out of America,” Biden said. “When does that ever happen in the United States?”
Families applying for medical relief are receiving letters, issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, saying the agency will no longer consider most deferred action requests. Biden said Trump is targeting children with severe illness.
“It’s sickening what is happening,” Biden shouted.
Someone in the crowd shouted “Yeah!”
“I would have thought even he would understand that kids with cancer, cystic fibrosis are off limits,” Biden said.
A student-teacher asked Biden how he will improve public education and teacher pay.
“For a student like me, I didn’t have a lot of teachers that looked like me and understood what I want through. So how can we improve having more black teachers in the black community and still be diverse?”
Biden went back to pacing. He said under his proposal, he will increase federal funding to schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families and require the districts to use the money to increase teacher pay.
“We are running into a gigantic shortage of teachers,” he said. “And we’re not attracting new people of any background into teaching.”
After realizing he had talked for about five minutes on the topic, Biden told the student-teacher he would give her a copy of his education plan, which “rests on attracting qualified teachers, particularly minorities, into the school system.”
Biden went on to discuss his plan for student debt. He said he supports two years of free community college, which “cuts in half the cost of a four-year education.” He also said historically black universities, such as Clinton College, should be getting roughly $500 million a year in aid.
Biden also said he will fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to include teachers.
Tavera Smith, a Clinton College student and single mother, said she is planning to work in education and enjoyed Biden’s proposals.
“I liked his plan about canceling debt for teachers because that’s what I want to do,” Smith said. “And a lot of HBCUs, we don’t get a lot of funding like regular colleges do, so that was nice to hear, too.”
“The fact of the matter is we need help,” Biden said of foreign relations.
Biden said the U.S. needs to maintain good relations with its allies.
“We will not let individual nations set the international rules,” Biden said. “And the ones who want to change the international rules are basically Russia and China because it is designed to keep people from threatening the rest of the world.”
Biden said it’s important the U.S. works to regain the competence of the rest of the world. And he said he is the only candidate with significant international experience to do so.
“I know every one of those leaders, except I don’t know the new prime minister of England,” he said. “He looks like Donald Trump, I know that.”
The crowd laughed.
That’s when Biden noticed the two LaFranca brothers. He smiled and passed the microphone.