Grant Chestnut had big shoes to fill when he graduated from college, and he’d be lying if he said that wasn’t daunting. But Chestnut isn’t just any ordinary guy; he’s the son of one of the most famous businessmen on the planet, and as such, it was only natural that he would follow in his father’s footsteps at some point in his career.
Who are you?
I am Grant Chestnut, the son of one of the most influential and controversial figures in American history. Born in 1970, my father was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the Governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2007. He is also known for being among the first African-Americans to win a major party nomination for President of the United States when he ran for office as a Democrat in 1984.
Although I grew up with my father’s legacy looming large over me, I have made it my goal in life not to live under his shadow or be defined by him or his accomplishments. I chose not to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer but instead enrolled at West Point Military Academy, where I graduated magna cum laude.
My dream is to serve my country and make it safe for all Americans to enjoy freedom – something that has been fought so hard for by those who came before me. In 2005, I earned a Silver Star for combat heroism after helping two soldiers wounded in an insurgent ambush during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. Now back stateside, I serve with distinction in my position as Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force 180 on the front lines against terrorism.
What was your childhood like?
I was born and raised in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was only five years old when my father passed away in the line of duty. At the time, he was a detective on the Charlottesville police force but had recently been promoted to homicide detective. The day before he died, my father had been called out on a case where a man beat his wife unconscious and then shot himself after realizing what he had done.
After my dad died I remember that there was an outpouring of love from not just family and friends but also strangers who respected him for serving as an officer of the law. He wasn’t perfect by any means. He struggled with alcoholism which is something I still struggle with today. But he gave his all and didn’t let anything stop him from doing what he thought was right even if it cost him his life at such a young age.
How does it feel to be the son of a famous father?
Growing up as the son of a famous father is not easy. As I’m sure you’ve read, I was always in my father’s shadow. He was a legend at every place he coached, and when he retired from coaching, he became one of the most sought-after motivational speakers in the country. It wasn’t that I wanted to be anything other than myself but I always felt like people were expecting me to be something because of who my dad was.
I can remember hearing people say things like You’re just living off your dad or You haven’t done anything yet. And at first, it hurt me, but then after a while, it started making me mad because they didn’t know what they were talking about. I knew who I was, and all the doubters out there weren’t going to change that. My father may have been a big part of my life growing up, but he isn’t controlling how I live now.
So, how do you live with being known as the son of?: The truth is no matter what your last name is or what legacy your parents left behind you are ultimately responsible for defining yourself.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m not going to let the things that I do define me. I’m going to define myself. – Grant Chestnut
At just thirteen years old, Grant Chestnut is the youngest black belt in the country and has won state titles, national titles, and world titles. Yet he still doesn’t want people to know him as his father’s son, who was a martial arts legend. Instead, he wants people to see him as his person because he knows all too well what it feels like when you’re defined by someone else.
Is there anything you would like to say about your father?
I’m Grant Chestnut. You might know me as the son of a famous politician, Franklin Chestnut. But I’m not here today to talk about my father. I want you to know who I am and what I stand for, not what he stands for. And there is one thing that separates me from my father: our stance on education reform.
Franklin has always been an advocate for the charter school system in the past, but it wasn’t until recently when he found out his son was having trouble at school that he changed his mind on education reform. He started advocating for more funding and smaller classrooms in public schools, which is something that I have always been passionate about too because of my time spent as a student in them.