Photo by Jana Birchum for Austin American Statesman

From the moment we announced our campaign, we have been asked the question: are they going to let you run?

The phrasing of the question, “…let you run…”

It makes me think of a story I would like to share. My parents moved us to Coronado Hills in 1975, I was 5 years old. In 1977, they ran a mini-series on TV called Roots. Kunta Kinte was the main character, played by Levar Burton. In prison, folks would have said Kunta had ‘jackrabbit’ in his blood, because he refused to stop trying to escape. To quell his desire for freedom and to run, they cut off one of his feet. The slave masters then said, “Let’s see how well you run now. Try to run now with one foot.”

So every time I’m faced with the question, “Are they going to let you run?”. I think about Kunta Kinte and even when they cut off his foot, he refused to stop running. Even after his life was threatened for attempting to escape slavery, with one foot and on a stump — he ran! I may have moved too fast for you to catch what I said. Even after the City Clerk said we couldn’t run and cut off one of our feet with a memo to the press, about our ineligibility to run for public office. With one foot cut off — we ran!

Even after they refused to call us anything except formerly incarcerated. Even after our campaign was deemed ‘a long shot’. Even after no press, except Nina Hernandez, came to our campaign announcement, but the People did — we ran. And because of you folks here today we continue to run! Well, today we run into the history books. Today the People make history in Austin, Texas. Today, Austin embraces change. Today, Austin becomes truly a Fair Chance city. Today, we take the first steps towards becoming a more compassionate, inclusive and equitable city. A radical city. Not reckless with wanton abandon, but radical because we are willing to pursue change. Radical means to us, that we are willing to pursue and implement change.

Today is the day we have been waiting for, for over 200 years in Texas. The beginning of an era where the People are elected office, not centrist and democratic insiders. An era where people who are from District One represent District One. We boldly stride forth grasping at the reigns of a future beholden to the many and not the few. My path to this place today could happen in no other city, at no other time, were it not for my obedience to God and his purpose.

You see folks like me aren’t supposed run for office. Running for office was not part of my parole plan. Can you imagine if it was? Can you imagine what my trajectory would have looked like?

Because I struggled with being accepted for housing, we created the People’s Plan for Austin Housing. Because our state laws are so oppressive and onerous, a Fair Chance Housing ordinance wouldn’t be legal in Texas. But, because I spent 12 years on parole being denied housing, after completing parole and still being denied housing, to this day I’m still ineligible for housing. With the approval of the $250 million dollar housing bond — I saw an opportunity. An opportunity to create permanent, independent and affordable housing. I saw a way for us to take care of folks at the forefront of gentrification.

I spent 16 years of my life after prison, post incarceration, with no health care. When I went to the doctor, I went to the ER and couldn’t pay the bill. When I landed in the hospital in 2015 and it changed my life, I had no healthcare. My heart doctor took pity when I didn’t have health care, but he wasn’t obligated to treat me — yet he did.

Because of my experience with no access to healthcare, seeing my friends and family in Austin choosing between paying the rent or going to the doctor. Choosing between paying a car note or taking the children to the doctor. When we are forced to those extremes — we can do better!

We can bring healthcare to the poor, working families, students and undocumented folks for half of what we were going to pay in vacation and overtime, for one of the highest paid police forces in Texas.

We call our plan: Districare. A pilot program utilizing revenue from the hospital district, which was founded specifically to pay for poor people’s healthcare. Healthy San Francisco has been in place for 10 years and costs the city less than $45 million a year. Everyone is covered and all service providers bill one entity.

Right now Austin Public Health operates on three P’s — Prevent, Promote and Protect. We are proposing a 4th ‘P’ — Provide. We can be the first in Texas to give its citizens universal healthcare and not raise taxes.

My parents had to refinance their home — twice, because of property taxes. On a retiree’s income, my parents struggled to pay their property taxes. No other candidate has the experience that we do at getting things done at the State Legislature. We will fight like hell for folks in District 1 to be protected from predatory land assessment and onerous tax burdens.

It’s because my story mirrors so many others — is why we run.

Because we have been on the outside looking in, is why we continue to run. Because folks who have served their time, deserve to serve their community is why we ran in the first place! We know better than any candidate how broken our system is. We, I, have been experiencing the effects of the CJ system for the last 28 years of my life. I have lived through our criminal justice system and I know we can do better.

We must end cash bail, promote treatment over incarceration, and start treating arrests and incarcerations as a last resort. Our criminal justice system is broken! We believe those who are closest to the problems are closest to the solutions, but furthest from access to resources and opportunity. Today that changes. Today we fix our criminal justice system in Austin, Texas!

People are experts in their own conditions. People who are afraid of I.C.E., know why they are afraid and know exactly what they need to feel safe. They are experts in their own condition! Folks who depend on Cap Metro and sidewalks are experts in how the city has failed them and continues to fail them with the Cap Metro Remap.

Folks who work for a living know it’s easier to get a payday loan in East Austin, than a mortgage loan. The experts know we need a District One Credit Union. As a Criminal Justice Organizer, I work with experts all the time. So I’m okay with trusting the experts.

So when folks like my parents, elderly folks, senior citizens, retired folks, folks who have worked their whole lives; have to drive 20 minutes to go to a hospital from Colony Park, Craigwood or Auburn Hill — the experts know we need hospitals on the East side.

All you gotta do is trust the experts. And people are experts in their own condition.

Women are experts about their bodies and choices. Women are experts on reproductive issues — not men. We support Women’s rights. Period. Straight no chase. Their right to be safe. Their right to choose. Their right to have access. Access to reproductive services and access to Municipal Child Care Vouchers.

We support workers. We support unions. We support $15 an hour minimum wage and we will fight to get Austin there. We support community schools, because the experts say that they are more effective than public or charter schools. The experts, parents and students I’m talking about, when I say experts.

LGBTQIA+ deserve dignity, protection and the right to identify as they choose, as we all should.

Listen to the experts is all that you have to do. Folks are dying, because we dial 911. We can do better. We are in the top 3 rated places to live in America in 2018. In 1865, while the rest of America was embracing freedom and Texas still held it’s black citizens in bondage. In 1865, the black population in Austin was 39% according to Dr. Kevin Foster. In 2015, data shows we hovered around 8–11% black population. Today in 2018, we stand at 6.7% black population in Austin.

And they ask us… Are they going to let you run?

That’s all black folks been doing in Austin for the last 100 years. Running after the same, six square miles that was land field and offered to us with a promise of running water. Running with one foot cut off.

And being told you’re running too slow.

Today the Under, the Forgotten, the Discarded, today we break the dark chains of history and embrace the bright freedom of the future.

Today a change has finally come. Thank you and God bless.

Writer | Formerly Incarcerated