South Suburban News - Robert Emmons wants to be your congressman in Illinois’ First Congressional District
In 2016, dozens of Democrats swept congressional races cross the country, many of our new members skew younger, there are more women and more young people now in office. In Illinois, we elected the youngest African American women to ever hold a seat in Congress.
Robert Emmons, raised in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham, hopes to join the ranks of fresh energy taking seats in Congress. We caught with him to learn more about who he is and his bid to convince voters Illinois Congressional District 1 voters he should represent them in Congress.
Question and Answer
1. Tell us about yourself. What was your life like before deciding to run for office?
Growing up in Auburn Gresham, I watched my grandmother work tirelessly to open a local food bank in Englewood and reinvigorate our block club on 79th Street. When I look back now, I understand that she was the first true organizer I ever met. So much of what we are doing in this movement is based on the principals she taught me. She taught me that we must always be our brothers and sisters’ keepers.
Every break from school I was at her food bank in St. Philip Church, helping to bag and distribute food to our neighbors. She showed me not only how crucial it is to be active in our communities, but to treat every individual with dignity and compassion. She is my north star, and she inspires me to lead with the same level of empathy as her.
After graduating from the University of Illinois with a Political Science degree, I married my college sweetheart, Brittani, and began working in the nonprofit sector. I took a job with a national college access and persistence organization, OneGoal. It was the same organization that helped me to get into college. I later was offered a consulting role with the Obama Foundation. There I helped young people from around the country develop and implement initiatives designed to heal their communities. My involvement in community initiatives has shown me just how powerful advocacy can be when backed by a coalition of principled soldiers, all fighting for justice.
2. Why are you running for congress?
I know what it’s like to lose a friend to gun violence. I know the feeling of having my gas shut off and my electricity cut. I’ve experienced not knowing how I am going to pay for prescriptions or medical bills, or have access to the mental healthcare I’ve needed at points in my life. These experiences should not be the norm, and they are far too common for young black men in our country. Black males under the age of 34 are far more likely to drop out of High School and college, be incarcerated for a nonviolent offense, go into debt, not own a home, or be shot by a gun than any other demographic in America.
What shock and disappoints about our government is its makeup. There is not a single member of Congress that fits this demographic. The strong, multi-generational coalitions that we need in our communities have not been built by our elected. I believe this is because they do not have the proximity to their communities that I have. I do not believe you can effectively represent your people if you cannot identify with them. It’s time that our most underserved demographics have a voice that speaks for them on the Federal level.
3. Young people are running for office across the country in numbers larger than ever before. What do you think about this and what message does it send to the country? And to young people in particular?
The founders of our country were not all that different from the progressive leaders of today. They were disillusioned by the injustices of their time, and believed that they were not adequately represented or fairly treated by their government. While they didn’t always live up to our country’s highest ideals, they were motivated by the inherent good in humanity.
Today, history seems to be repeating itself. Young people, more determined; a little more fired up; a lot more representative of their communities, are beginning to rise up and say bold and courageous things. We’re saying things that aren’t simply rooted in policy but in social empowerment. We want to be free from the fear of being shot by a gun. Free from the unlikelihood of graduation and a good job. Free from the possibility of a trip to the hospital turning into crippling debt. Free from the detrimental health effects of our own drinking water. Above all, free to be hopeful that we may live a better life than the generation before us. The message that I and so many others are sending to our leaders is simple: we are ready to take this country to the next level. We are ready to take up the mantle, inspire our communities, and fight for what the constitution guarantees us: life, liberty and the fulfillment of happiness.
4. What is your vision for the Black community in IL-1 specifically?
When I was young, my sisters created worlds that were better than our reality. They taught me to perceive my surroundings not as they appeared, but as they might be if I set my mind to it. When I find a vacant lot in the First District, I picture a community center in its place. When I see an abandoned building with its roof caving in, I reimagine that roof lined with solar panels and affordable housing beneath them. I envision a world in which we cry tears of joy at graduations, not tears of despair at funerals.
I have and I will continue to work day and night to reinvigorate this district. I will do so by working with the community, using our collective resources and the power of Federal support to make the district stronger. The solutions to our problems are in the minds of those who understand them. Whether it’s in the mind of the little Black girl who dreams of becoming a doctor, the Black boy who dreams of becoming an investment banker, or my own grandmother, who kneels in prayer every Sunday for a more hopeful tomorrow. We cannot let progress falter and our dreams fizzle, no matter how difficult the realities of our everyday might be. This campaign is about setting our minds on the district that we deserve, then making it a reality together.
5. If elected, what would you do to help quell gun violence in cities like Chicago, on a federal level?
Gun violence has become one of our nation’s most pressing concerns. If we want to consider America a symbol of hope and freedom, our people should feel safe in their own streets. Sadly, this is not the reality in many of our low-income, communities of color. We absolutely need to place everyday gun violence on the top of the national discourse.
Fixing our violence starts from the bottom up. We need to invest in a better future for our children on day one, across the board. They should never find themselves in a position where they feel compelled to resort to gun violence. We must also work towards eliminating policies that separate families from one another. Mass incarceration has had a profound impact on the First District. We cannot achieve stability in our communities without ending the institutional racism that has torn families apart and derailed the futures of our youth for decades. Also, let’s turn our focus away from Washington lobbyists and towards the real policy specialists: gun violence prevention programs right here at home. The activists that work day and night to fix the violence in our district must be at the top of the list for Federal aid. We cannot continue to tell them how to serve their communities, but provide them support and funding to organize and scale their community intervention.
Eliminating gun violence can be done in our lifetimes, but it’s not going to be a one-step process. We’ll need to address the lead in our drinking water, which hinders brain development in our youth; invest in a better future for our children through reformation in our school funding model; and build upon the belief that mental healthcare is a human right and not a privilege.
6. When you’re not campaigning, what are you doing to enjoy your time/contribute to the community?
It’s hard to remember a time when my mind wasn’t on this campaign! My wife Brittani and I live in Hyde Park with our dog Shiloh. We love to hang out with our little pup. When it’s not freezing in Chicago, we love to take him on walks by the lakefront. He’s the perfect addition to our small but mighty family. A big part of my life is attending church at St. Sabina or St. Philip Church. I get my fuel by being around good people. These environments exude love and compassion.
7. Finally, what is your favorite thing about IL-1 (the people, the places, etc.)? Your favorite restaurant?
My favorite thing about IL-1 is grandma and grandpa’s house. It reminds me of everything good in the world: family, love and God. As far as my favorite restaurant, I’ll have to go with Chicago’s Chicken and Waffles. My all-time favorite meal from any soul food restaurant is Fried Chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, and Candied Yams. The third side can be anything; depends on what I’m feeling that day.