Four years ago, Robert Emmons Jr. lost his best friend and college roommate to gun violence.
The tragedy caused him to drop out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) and reflect on his own life, and he decided to become involved in politics.
Now, Emmons, 26, is running as a Democrat in next year’s race for the First Congressional District of Illinois.
As he campaigns for the position that has been held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush for 27 years, Emmons said he wants to prevent people from experiencing heartache similar to his own.
“We’re fighting to make this the last generation to deal with everyday gun violence,” Emmons said, “and we’re going to do that by addressing it at its root causes.”
Emmons, who declined to disclose the name of his friend, is an Auburn Gresham native, and he lived with his grandparents and was active at St. Philip Church.
He now lives in Hyde Park with his wife, Brittany, and he eventually returned to UI and earned his degree.
He is a graduate of Perspectives High School, which is part of the Chicago Public Schools.
He began his career as manager of program innovation for OneGoal, a non-profit that helps people in low-income communities pursue a college education, and he was a community leader at the Obama Foundation, a non-profit that supports education for young people.
On his website, he said that even while having a “fulfilling job,” he couldn’t afford the insurance deductible for a therapist session or a city sticker for his vehicle.
He is motivated, he said, to improve the lives of residents in the First District, which includes Morgan Park and parts of Beverly.
“Every single thing I’ve done in my professional life … has been about uniting communities together,” Emmons said, “to solve really big social issues.”
Myriad factors play into gun violence, Emmons said. He wants “weapons of war off the streets,” background checks and closing loopholes in laws covering gun shows.
He said “an economic disinvestment in black and brown communities” leads to violent crime, as well as a lack of support for mental health care.
“I truly believe,” he said, “that we can [solve] gun violence together.”
Emmons said he supports a green New Deal, single-payer health care and universal pre-kindergarten education.
Many states are raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour, and some officials have said that should be the federal rate by 2025.
Emmons said he believes in a minimum “living wage.” How much employees make, he said, should be based on the cost of living in their community.
In six years, he said, the minimum wage needs to be substantially higher.
“By then,” he said, “we’ll need about $22 [an hour] for most of the country.”
He said raising wages allows people “to live a life with dignity,” and he disagrees with critics who contend that raising the minimum wage will hurt businesses.
“There’s no data,” he said, “that suggests you hurt local economies by raising the standards of living.”
On his website, he said his background has proven that people working together can lead to change.
“My involvement in community initiatives,” he said, “has shown me just how powerful advocacy can be when backed by a coalition of determined individuals fighting tirelessly for justice.”
Ameena Matthews, an Emmy Award-winning peace activist, is also challenging Rush in the primary.
The primary election will be March 17, 2020, with the general election on Nov. 3.
For more information on Emmons, visit the website at robertemmons.org.