"Right after the vote, my coach, Erving Garnett, took me into his office," said Cleaver. "He told me I can't be captain because I fought too much. He couldn't have the captain of the football team kicked out of games for fighting. I never had another fistfight after that."
Cleaver carried his new devotion to self-control and quiet strength throughout college and into public office, where he became the first African-American mayor of Kansas City, Mo., in 1991 and now serves in the House of Representatives alongside Mike Fitzpatrick, who represents Bucks County in Pennsylvania's 8th District.
They sit on opposite sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C., but Monday afternoon Cleaver and Fitzpatrick shared the same stage at Neshaminy School District's Maple Point Middle School in Langhorne to highlight the importance of civility.
"I spoke with him on the phone and invited him here, and I am going to go to his district," said Fitzpatrick. "We wanted to walk a mile in each other's districts and see what we have in common. We have similar personalities that like to study issues from all sides and don't feel the need to constantly beat each other up."
Their appearance at Maple Point was part of the school's celebration of Constitution Day. Earlier that morning, State Representative Frank Farry spoke to classroom representatives about state-level government. State Senator Tommy Tomlinson has been scheduled to meet students on Wednesday.
"It really makes a difference to the students when they can meet their representatives face-to-face," said Anne Schmidt, chairperson of the school's Social Studies Department. "The subject becomes much more meaningful to them and encourages them to get more involved in their communities."
After each congressman addressed the sixth and seventh graders on the importance of a civil dialogue between two parties that represent the people of the United States, some students took to the microphone for a 30-minute question and answer period.
They may not be of voting age, yet, but the middle schoolers demonstrated a keen interest and knowledge of the important issues of the day, including Syria, gun control and unemployment.
“The students at Maple Point Middle School had great questions for me and Representative Cleaver, and I hope that being able to talk to them as members of Congress from opposing parties in a civilized manner will stick with them as they grow up in an often uncivil political climate,” said Fitzpatrick.
After the session, Fitzpatrick planned to show Cleaver a few points of interest in Lower Bucks, especially his own hometown of Levittown. Later this year, Fitzpatrick will become Cleaver's guest in Missouri's 5th District, which includes most of Kansas City and the suburbs of Jackson County.