Kristin Richardson Jordan ’09: Hi, Almaz. Thank you for having me on. I'm excited to be here. I appreciate the platform. I'm excited for whatever connection and feedback we might hear from our Brown community and fellow alums.
Almaz Dessie ’07 MD’11 F’17: Excellent. Well, let's get started. It's been a few years since I've seen you since we were both at Brown and I found out you were running for city council. So what was your inspiration for running for office this year?
Jordan: You know I love this question because there are different things that have motivated me to run because there's so much going on in the world, right? So I will say at the political level, I've been inspired by seeing "the squad" run and seeing the elections of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley. What that demonstrated to me was that you could have these radical women of color running for office, speaking truth to power and actually winning. And prior to that, my view being an abolitionist, being a socialist, being someone who is radical—and I do embrace the term radical and is left—but also just let's be honest ... given the state of the world, I was very turned off politically from electoral politics. I've always been politically active. I was doing a ton of community stuff, but I was not looking at electoral politics as a place for change-making until I saw the possibility and the success of these runs and really felt inspired.
You know when AOC won her election, she sent out a Tweet that this was the start of a movement and I think that's just facts. And I think we're seeing literally all over New York City, people engaging in socialist runs for city council seats. I am very excited about that. I'm a third-generation Harlemite and I do feel on a deep level, drawn to run, my call to run to fill a space.
Dessie: That's amazing. That's so cool to hear. I definitely agree with you that seeing these new faces in politics have really changed just the concept of what the political establishment can be and it's really cool to see you out here adding to that new legacy.
So your campaign uses the acronym, H.A.R.L.E.M., Harlem. Can you tell us what that stands for and why you chose to focus on those topics as a third-generation Harlem-ite?
Jordan: Yes, definitely. I'm a teacher and a poet, so I love a good acronym and it's all about Harlem. It's all about the community at the end of the day. So the H.A.R.L.E.M. acronym spells out seven different focus areas. The H stands for holding police accountable and abolition; the A stands for actually affordable housing, housing as a human right; the R stands for redistribution of wealth and resources, taking care of those most in need and most oppressed; the L stands for living longer, which is a care package for our Harlem seniors, and also legislation on gun control; the E stands for education for all and environmental justice; and the M stands for meaningful change.
So if I win this seat, I will be a lot of firsts. I will be the first "out" LGBTQ person in the seat to represent district nine, to represent central Harlem. I will be the first Black queer woman on New York City council period from any district and I at 33, would be the youngest to represent this district nine seat as well.
Dessie: That's a really big deal to be a young Black queer woman and the first out Black queer woman on the New York City council, and really paving the way here. Can you talk about some of the challenges you have faced based on your identity while campaigning and how you're using that to influence other young people who haven't seen themselves represented yet?
Jordan: Yeah, I think there are a couple of different challenges, but what's coming to mind is that I think there's basically a twofold challenge. So on the one hand, we have those who are openly blatantly homophobic, and that has happened. That has already happened on this campaign. I have had trolls, I have had comments, I've had people slide into the DM's. That is all very real and very present and very here and is just a challenge in that we have not seen everyone's humanity and we still have so much homophobia in this world. We have white supremacy in this world. We have patriarchy in this world, all the comments, all the things have come.
The other side I would say is erasure, which is sort of this larger issue that isn't so blatant, but is incredibly oppressive. In the socialist spaces, we have not seen a lot of Black socialists in visible sort of leadership positions, right? So I do look for, hope for, and am seeking more folks who look like me who have a belief in a world without jails, a world without prisons, a belief in redistributing wealth, a belief in housing the homeless in homes, not shelters, a radical love view of humanity, and I want to see more people like me who are advocating for that.
And you know when you look around and you don't see it, then it's you.
Dessie: Exactly. I'm curious to hear what you think everyday people in New York or elsewhere can be doing right now to be more engaged in their own communities. Like if I want to be more engaged in Brooklyn or in New York City in the local politics, how did you get to that? Where does one start?
Jordan: Yeah I think that's a great question. I think there's a lot of ways to engage locally. I will say right now, the big push is around the census and I understand a lot of people are tired of talking about it, but the fact is rightly or wrongly, and frankly, I would say wrongly, the census has been used as this tool to actually distribute resources. So when we don't get counted and we're underrepresented, it's used basically as a reason, in my opinion, as an excuse to not properly fund our communities. And so even just getting out there and telling your neighbors about the census is important. Aside from that, the local [political] scene is hard to navigate. It is mostly unseen and it takes a lot of grassroots effort and energy.
It's not like the presidential election where everyone sort of sees everything and everything is covered by media and it's very visible. It's very community-based—block by block and person by person. So a lot of the work is really spreading the word. So I would say one way to locally engage is if you have the time and the energy and the inclination to research some of these candidates in the different districts, and then go ahead and share that info with other people because not everyone is going to have time to research everything and look at everyone, but we can all take the time to listen to our friend who we know is plugged in and sort of share resources and build capacity collectively.
I also think service is a way people engage locally. I know sometimes those who are a little, in my opinion, a little more dogmatic will emphasize that we need to just hammer everyone about abolition, we need to just hammer everybody about democratic socialism theory, theory, theory. I understand the theory and I value and think it's important. You know we went to Brown, I did Black studies. I definitely understand and value that perspective. However, we also need to understand that community care is at the base of everything. Radical community love and service is at the base of everything. So if you want to be engaged locally, even something as simple as "I'm going to help the local food pantry" is a way to get plugged in.
We have done some park cleanups where literally, we just go and clean the local parks and just organize with our neighbors to clean up the park.
Dessie: I love that. I love your point that being involved with service in your community kind of brings out the political issues that are going on in your community that you may not otherwise know or may not be involved with or engaged with. So that's great. I'd love to ask, since you mentioned it [and] since this is a Brown sort of alumni podcast, can you tell us a little bit about some of the lessons you learned at Brown, academic or social or otherwise, that really you still carry with you or have shaped you in your life and your career?
Jordan: Yeah, there's a lot there. There's a lot there. I will say...that the Black studies program at Brown—Africana Studies program—has shaped so much of where I am politically and intellectually and even spiritually, emotionally. Doing things like TWTP and the Third World Center, really shaped again, a larger consciousness. There's so much from that, that I am using now and applying now in this work locally and in my community. I mean the roots of abolition I learned from reading Angela Davis's, "Abolition Democracy," while [in the] Brown Africana studies program.
And now, I am one of the few candidates that is openly abolitionist in running for city council and actively talking with my community about the possibilities of a world without jails, and being able to talk about abolition not as scarcity, but as abundance. Yes, as a defunding of NYPD, but really as a funding of all of the things that prevent harm and prevent violence in our communities. And all of that analysis comes from having that space at Brown to explore those ideas and to learn those things and socially, to engage. I mean one of the things I definitely miss the most are those late-night convos. I don't know if you had some of those...
Dessie: Of course, of course. That was half the learning, right?
Jordan: Yes. It was...There's plenty in the classroom, but the conversations I'm talking about weren't in the classroom. [They were] those late-night social conversations you have with other young people of color at Brown who have radical views and are trying to change the whole world. Like: how do we take down white supremacy in a few hours tonight?
Dessie: Definitely. For listeners who don't know some of the things that Kristin is talking about, the Third World Transition Program, or TWTP, is a pre-orientation program for students of color at Brown that has a long and very rich legacy at what's now the Brown Center for Students of Color and used to be the Third World Center. And Kristin and I really came up through that program and she used to be a leader of that program her senior year for all the incoming freshmen. For a lot of us, that was a place where we really learned some of these ideas that, at least for me, really shaped my worldview from my first hours at Brown and affect my work, and I think affect a lot of people's life, mission and work as their life view has changed through learning at TWTP specifically.
So just pivoting a little bit, can you tell us some of the lessons you have learned in your run for office? Like there might be some people listening to this podcast who are inspired by what you're talking about or maybe contemplated running for office or getting more involved locally. Where would they start and what things have you learned in this process that you would advise other young people at this point?
Jordan: This is great. I definitely think folks should run. More people should run, young people should run, those who are non-traditional candidates should run. I am a non-traditional candidate and I got a lot of negative feedback from establishment folks in Harlem when I decided to run for office. And so the first piece of advice I would give to people is to understand that there are different forces at play, and there are some people quite frankly, who are in positions of power and connected to the political machine who are not about serving people. So I would just advise those who are mission-driven and purposeful and idealistic to not play so much in the opinions of those who are more established.
Like take anything they say with a grain of salt. Folks will tell you, "Wait your turn," and you should do it anyway. Folks will list a whole bunch of reasons why they think you're not qualified, and a lot of those reasons will have nothing to do with serving people and everything to do with being part of the establishment and you should run anyway. There's more and more of us. So also look out. Look out for each other and try to find your fellow radical upstart in the neighboring district because we're here, you know.
Dessie: That's awesome advice. Thank you. Well, it's amazing to talk to you today, Kristin. We are so proud of you. The whole Brown community is proud of you and so excited to have your voice on this podcast...and your voice and your views out in New York and out in the world, changing the world. So thank you so much for joining us.
Jordan: Thank you. Thank you for having me on.
Dessie: Thanks for listening to the Women's Voices Amplified podcast. For more episodes like this, be sure to listen and subscribe. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Podcast, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent those of Brown University.