Navy's class president is a football player who has eyes on another presidency

A Navy football promotional photo shows Cameron Kinley a starting cornerback at the Naval Academy, where he was named a team captain in August 2020. Kinley is also a political science major who serves as class president for his graduating class of midshipmen.

By KAREEM COPELAND | The Washington Post | Published: September 5, 2020

Candace Kinley knew early on that there was something a bit peculiar about her third child.

There was the day when the 9-month-old stood up and walked his first steps before ever learning to crawl. Then there was the first-grade teacher who proclaimed, "I don't know what to do with him," and would spend her planning period trying to figure that out. And then there was the time the preschooler asked where babies came from and was completely unsatisfied by the tale of a stork that Candace told.

Cameron Kinley is all grown up now and that curious mind has developed a certain, unabashed ambition. He's a starting cornerback at the Naval Academy, where he was named a team captain last week, and is also a political science major who serves as class president for the graduating class of midshipmen. No Navy football player has been voted class president dating back to at least 1991.

Oh, and Kinley has aspirations of living in the White House one day.

"Cameron's always been a different kid," Candace said. "Cameron always from a young age just always stood out. . . . He was always inquisitive.

"He always asked a lot of questions. I remember someone saying once, 'If Cameron asks you a question, you have to give him an answer. You can't just blow him off because he's going to dig until he gets the answer he wants."

Kinley was in fourth grade when Barack Obama was elected as the first African American president of the United States. The nomination had enormous meaning to minority communities that only saw white men as commander in chief, and it planted a seed in the mind of the young Black kid in Memphis, Tenn.

Kinley demanded to switch to a private school as a first-grader after his sister, two years older, flipped to a private all-girls school. He was often one of the only Black children in classes at Presbyterian Day School and remembers watching the inauguration on a projector, fighting back tears. The family discussed the election often and it struck a chord with Cameron as he watched a Black man become president of a nation that did not look like him while he sat in classrooms every day, a Black kid surrounded by classmates that did not look like him.

"It was moving," Kinley said. "It goes beyond policies for me with President Obama. Just what he did for young African Americans in this country. He opened up the vision for so many people that this is possible if you want to do it. If you want to be the first Black whatever, it's possible. . . . That kind of opened my interest into things."

Candace, added, "He really got it, even at that age."

The extra-curricular accolades piled up over the years for Kinley as he participated in Model United Nations and debate in addition to athletics. Candace recalled people nicknaming him "president" in high school before he actually ran for any student government position, winning class secretary as a junior and co-president as a senior. Others would make remarks about him being the next Barack Obama before he even truly developed those aspirations.

That didn't fully materialize until he was at the Academy and took a class trip to D.C.

"Seeing all of the different monuments, I just began to get the feeling within me that this is probably something I want to do in my future," Kinley said.

Kinley keeps three separate daily planners to keep his life in order. One is dedicated to sports, another for academics and one to keep track of the constellation of meetings between being class president and other clubs he's involved in. Virtually every minute of the day is accounted for, starting with a 6:40 a.m. wake-up call, as Kinley embarks on his final year at the academy with a bevy of responsibilities.

Teammates already looked to him for leadership, and that was before he was named a team captain, but so does the entire class. Being class president at the Naval Academy differs a bit from other traditional universities. The position can be extremely political at many institutions, but the academy runs a different ship with superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck running the show according to a system built by the military over generations.

Class president at the Naval Academy serves more as a voice between the class and higher-ranking officials at the academy. There are several events and ceremonies to be organized, including the creation and implementation of a variety of class projects.

"It's one of the highest honors that any academy midshipman or graduate can achieve," said Stephen Comiskey, chair of the Naval Academy Council of Class Presidents. "The Naval academy is all about teaching warriors to lead other warriors."

Kinley is all about leading and that's why he puts so much on his plate. There's the class president and team captain responsibilities on top of being a member of the Midshipmen Black Studies Club, Midshipmen Diversity Team and Navy Football Council for Racial Equality. There's a common theme within those organizations that is very purposeful. Kinley said he gets a "sick feeling" every time he sees another example of social injustice against people of color in this country. Regardless of his position as class president or team captain, Kinley felt a duty to be an instrument of actionable change as a Black man in America. To not do so would be akin to those who stay silent during these times of unrest, he explained.

"Love that guy," teammate Myles Fells said. "To see him juggle all these things, being class president, being a huge leader and team captain on the football team, the things he does in his own community, all the different community service things that he does outside of football. I'm so proud to call him my brother.

"We all call him 'Attention On Deck' because that's the captain, that's the boss right there. I'm looking forward to when we run for president-vice president. So stay tuned, Kinley-Fells!"

Juggling all those things can take a toll both physically and mentally. Paying attention to and being involved in social justice activism can be draining and Kinley needed to a way to find some balance. During the quarantine he began to mediate and started journaling to relieve stress. There's plenty of calls to his parents and siblings while his faith in God provides a steadying force when things feel overwhelming. Oh, and then there's always the soothing sounds of The Isley Brothers, New Edition, The Whispers and other old school R&B that he listens to.

Kinley recently read "The Power of Favor" by Joel Osteen to better understand both the blessings he's received and the responsibility that comes with them.

"To be a football player to receive that award is awesome," Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo said about the class presidency. "Everybody at the academy, we're all busy. All the different sports, all the extracurricular activities. So to receive that award, to be voted on, that's a pretty cool deal. Also, to be Black is awesome. In a predominantly white school, I think it's a pretty big honor. . . . I think it's pretty sweet in a lot of different ways."

The Navy football team begins its 2020 schedule Monday in a matchup against BYU in Annapolis as Kinley wraps up his career as a football player. It's been a strange final season as the global coronavirus pandemic forced everyone to leave campus in the spring before being brought back and locked down on the yard in an attempt to keep the virus outside of the academy's walls. Things have been different, but it also closes a circle of something that seemed to be destined for Kinley. His grandfather and cousin were both in the Navy and in elementary, Kinley wrote an essay about what it meant to be a Naval Academy athlete. The family had no ties to the academy at the time and Candace still doesn't know where the idea came from. Years later Navy was one of the first schools to offer Kinley and both he and his mom immediately remembered that essay.

Four years later, Kinley is a team captain and class president despite the fact his mom had to nudge him into running in the first place. All of those experiences, plus an American Presidents class that took a trip to the White House, now has him envisioning taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

"I told him don't be scared to go for things that may seem out of reach for you," Candace Kinley said.

U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Cameron Kinley flies in a T-34C Mentor on May 19, 2019.