By Barney Blakeney
Charleston’s Clay Middleton is a homegrown product symbolic of what’s best about the community – from humble beginnings springs the most fruitful results.
Since late March, Middleton has served on Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s administration as Director of Business Services. His job is to assist small businesses to grow, develop and play an integral role in the city’s business environment. It’s a job he’s well suited for. At 35, Middleton has distinguished himself among young leaders.
During the recent presidential election, Middleton served as the South Carolina State Director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. During the general election, he served in Florida as the Regional Political Director for North Florida. Prior to his work on the Clinton campaign, Clay alternated between roles in South Carolina and Washington. He served in a number of key government, military, and political positions, including a close run for a South Carolina State House seat 111.
As Associate Director for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Corporation for National and Community Service, Middleton led several White House national initiatives in coordination with the White House, federal agency officials, and key community stakeholders. A 2003 graduate of The Citadel and a major in the Army National Guard, Middleton initiated the agencies’ efforts to expand their support of veterans and military families, and spearheaded an interfaith campus challenge which went on to become a permanent program for the White House. He helped craft a national service strategy to improve low performing schools.
Outside the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Middleton’s public service included several posts as special advisor and congressional affairs liaison at the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration.
At the Department of Energy, Middleton led outreach efforts and developed strategies to increase the Department’s programming to minority serving institutions and small businesses. He also led advocacy efforts to support the Department’s Jobs and Workforce initiatives to veterans and military families. Prior to his government service in the executive branch, he worked as the South Carolina Political Director for Barack Obama for America 2008 general election and spent nearly 10 years working for Congressman Jim Clyburn serving as a District Aide and as Clyburn’s Lowcountry Director.
The father of two boys ages two and seven months, Middleton says his service is personal. Since he was an eight-year-old kid growing up in the Bayside Manor Apartments community on the Charleston peninsula, Middleton’s parents had him involved in character-building activities. He says he grew up participating in activities sponsored by the Knights of Pythagoras. By the time he graduated from Burke High School in 1999, his propensity for leadership had become ingrained. And so had his desire to advocate for social justice. He made it his mission to create equal access to the opportunities that can breed success for the most marginalized.
Middleton’s commitment to service and his personal mandate to solve problems and create opportunities is woven into every facet of his life. His community service includes a dozen organizations. The Charleston Business Journal named him to their prestigious 40 under 40 list, MOJA Arts Festival named him a rising star, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Association awarded him the Outstanding Spokesman for Freedom Award.
“For me, politics was always a cause,” said Charleston’s new business services director. And as the father of two young boys he says that cause has become more prominent. “One generation plants trees so the next generation can have shade,” he says. The future’s potential is boundless. And he won’t limit what we can do together, he insists. “Now that I have my boys, it’s no longer just about my neighbors and my cousins. It’s more personal.”