John Patrick Julien, warrior for parental school choice, RIP

Rep. Julien
Rep. Julien

Some days you hear someone say, “make the most of every day, you never know when it will be your last” – and you think, what a cliché. Then some days you learn something that makes that sentence all too real.

I only heard last week that former state Rep. John Patrick Julien was ill. He passed away Friday from liver cancer. Apparently he only learned of his diagnosis a few weeks ago.

JPJ, as we called him, was a warrior for parental school choice. He came to the legislature as the bipartisan wave was building for choice. We had gone from no Democrats in the House supporting the Step Up program to half of them. We had gone from no members of the Black Caucus in support to a majority.

But JPJ still took heat for his position. Those who opposed school choice would threaten to take him out. He didn’t flinch. As he told me several times, “Why wouldn’t I support it? It’s the right thing to do.” He undervalued the simple, strong integrity of that statement.

JPJ was always willing, at a moment’s notice,  to help spread the choice gospel. In just one example, when a large delegation of legislators came to Miami from Tennessee two years ago to learn about school choice, it was JPJ we turned to. We happily let a segment scheduled for 20 minutes go into triple overtime as members of the Tennessee Black Caucus peppered him with questions. “Is it OK to do this?” they asked. JPJ had the right answers, and the right attitude.

Listen to the podcast JPJ did with Ron Matus and you’ll see what I mean.

I am so sad I will never again work with JPJ in this cause. But I’m so grateful I was able to fight with him for a short while. His passing reminds me never to regret spending time and treasure on this cause. You never know when you will no longer have the chance.

It makes me think of Shakespeare’s “King Henry V,” and his St. Crispin’s Day Speech:

We few, we happy few

We band of brothers.

For he who fights with me today shall be my brother…

And gentlemen in England now abed, shall think themselves accursed they were not here

And hold their manhoods cheap, whilst any speaks

Who fought with us, upon St. Crispin’s Day!

Thank you, JPJ.

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BY John Kirtley

Chairman of Florida scholarship organization for low-income students, Vice Chair of American Federation For Children, a national parental choice organization