From designing city flags to starting a southwest Kansas secession movement, one local 11-year-old boy isn’t wasting any time launching his political career and trying to change the world, or at least the region.
On Tuesday, Matthew Blood presented a proposal for a city flag to the Garden City Commission, winning the commendation of Commissioner Lindsay Byrnes, who told him the commission would present the flag to the community for input before making any official decision on its implementation.
Matthew described himself as a vexillologist, or someone who studies and creates flags. He requested a place for his flag proposal on the commission’s agenda after he realized that Garden City doesn’t technically have a flag. When he addressed the commission, he presented a flag with three stripes — blue, white and gold from top to bottom — and a multicolored emblem often used by city and county agencies with a sunflower bloom placed above it.
The flag, he said, represents unity, purity of the people, the grain industry, diversity and hope.
On Thursday, Matthew visited The Telegram to discuss his enthusiasm for history, his vexillological interests, a possible gubernatorial run and an incipient effort to start a regional secession movement in southwest Kansas that would put power and fiscal priority back in the people’s hands.
“They said that they liked it, and that they’re going to open it up to the public, and that’s basically where it ended,” he said of the commission’s review of his flag design. “I went and sat down for another 30 minutes before I realized my mom was waiting outside.”
That forgetfulness illustrates just how independent and precocious the 11-year-old is, and his mother, Tessa Romero-Blood, said he probably wouldn’t even need her if he could drive.
But with five years left before Matthew can tuck a driver’s license into his wallet, he’s stuck at home writing “Star Wars” fan fictions, watching dinosaur documentaries, reading historical tomes, and crafting flags for the city, the region and beyond. He even criticized “Jurassic Park” for mismatching dinosaurs with the eras when they actually lived.
As he talks, using phrases like “brewing in my mind,” Romero-Blood exclaims, “I gave birth to Sheldon Cooper,” the fictional character played by Jim Parsons on “The Big Bang Theory."
“It began brewing in my mind like at least a month ago, something along those lines,” an unfazed Matthew continued about the flag. “It just began brewing in my mind that a flag as it has been throughout history can be a real uniter, a rallying symbol for the people.”
That was essentially the same pitch he gave city commissioners, and after explaining that he enjoys theorizing about alternate timelines in history by examining historical facts and contemplating the implications of a different set of circumstances, he said he thinks Garden City would inspire more city pride today if it had created a flag sooner.
Matthew is a lifelong Finney County resident and one of two sixth-grade students at High Plains Christian School in Garden City, which he says has a total population of 18 students.
In third grade, he read his first history book, and now he has an entire bookcase filled with similar thick books he reads casually when it strikes his fancy.
“It’s just so interesting to look at how the societies of the world today developed,” he said, after explaining that secession in Kansas isn’t a new idea.
In May 1992, Gov. Joan Finney signed a new school finance formula into law that negatively impacted southwest Kansas counties by raising taxes while shifting education funding away from rural school districts and into urban areas predominantly in the eastern half of the state. As a result, Garden City native Don. O. Concannon started a secessionist movement that included Grant, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kiowa, Meade, Morton, Stanton and Stevens counties.
But instead of nine counties, Matthew's secession movement as currently proposed would include 17 counties: Hamilton, Kearny, Finney, Hodgeman, Edwards, Stanton, Grant, Haskell, Gray, Ford, Kiowa, Stevens, Seward, Meade, Clark and Comanche counties.
As issues involving school finance loom large even today, Matthew says his movement would unfold in three to five phases that would ideally culminate in more serious considerations of fiscal distribution by state lawmakers.
“This is all about how currently, due to the economic situation, Topeka has never honestly really paid too much attention to southwest Kansas, especially when they made decisions on taxes which could harm southwest Kansas, which has seriously hurt the farmers of the region and stuff,” he said.
He complained that fiscal flow tends to gravitate to the eastern side of the state, “leaving much of overall western Kansas out of the picture and causing major economic harm,” and he bemoaned the rate of regional departure among western Kansans in recent years.
For now, Matthew says he is balancing his vexillology and secession movement with schoolwork, but he one day hopes to run for governor.
But even if he doesn’t win, he says generating awareness of his secession movement would be enough. He has already met with Mayor Roy Cessna to discuss his movement, and Romero-Blood says he arranges all of his own meetings.
The youngest of seven children, Romero-Blood says her son is “different,” even among a crop of smart kids.
“He’s got a lot of charisma and a lot of drive,” she said. “He doesn’t just talk about it or read about it. He sets up these meetings on his own. He emails the representatives, the mayor… He’s like a little adult and does this on his own.”
Friends and family even joke that he may one day run for president.
“We just kind of go with it,” Romero-Blood said of her son’s targeted interests.
To read Blood’s full secession manifesto and view his regional flag design, visit MaBlood06.WixSite.com/Independence.
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.