On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Race is taking the front seat in American politics. After the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others, protesters flooded the streets, demanding racial equity and police accountability. President-elect Joe Biden secured the election, thanks to the surge of black voters of color in key cities and swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And, Kamala Harris will be the first Black and South Asian woman to serve as Vice-President, in the coming months.
Candace Hollingsworth, mayor of Hyattsville, MD, is resigning from her position to lead a newly-formed Black-centric political party called Our Black Party. Our Black Party aims to prioritize the issues of Black people.
Are the needs of the Black community being addressed? What does the future of Black politics look like, in America and within our region?
Produced by Richard Cunningham
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we're talking with award-winning young adult Author Lamar Giles on Kojo For Kids. But first, as in many Democratic wins, voters of color specifically Black voters were instrumental in securing President-elect Joe Biden's victory. But as the country faces a reckoning around racial equity and police accountability, does the mainstream two party system and in particular the Democratic Party really represent Black interests?
KOJO NNAMDIHyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth is resigning from her post at the end of this year to start a new political party with the goal of addressing the concerns of Black people in this country. What would this third party look like? And what are some of the concerns of the Black community in the region and in the country? Candace Hollingsworth, Madam Mayor, thank you for joining us.
CANDACE HOLLINGSWORTHThank you for having me.
NNAMDICandace Hollingsworth is the Mayor of Hyattsville and Chief Organizer of Our Black Party. How do you -- or what do you feel about the state of Black representation in politics today?
HOLLINGSWORTHYou know, Black representation in politics and the state of Black politics I think are two very different things. One of the beautiful things about Black folks getting engaged is that we see more people in positions of power than we have before. But at the same time, does that necessarily equate to as having policies and programs that really are going to work to our benefit and actually improve our quality of life? And I think that is yet to be determined. But I love that we're seeing so much energy from people to really be able to extract from the political system the things that our communities need. And that's what Our Black Party is really excited about working with our community to do.
NNAMDIBut you're a mayor and you're the youngest person ever to serve as the Mayor of Hyattsville as well as the first African American to hold that position. What has that meant to you? Why is that not the kind of progress you're looking for?
HOLLINGSWORTHI always tell everyone, I probably sound like a broken record at this point. But being Mayor of the City of Hyattsville is absolutely hands down the best job I never knew I wanted. It is a very cool thing to be in a position where you see things that you think should be different in your community and actually in a position to make that happen. And so I feel fortunate and I feel grateful to the residents of the city that I have been able to live my purpose in this way in service to Hyattsville.
HOLLINGSWORTHBut at the same it's important to note that there are certain kind of natural restrictions that the electoral process puts on elected officials and particularly elected officials of color. And to put a finer point on it, Black elected officials. And what I've recognized being in this role for this time is that we, Black electeds don't really have that same type of cushion in terms of someone who is there to help corral the electoral power and the resources that are needed for Black people to do well in their positions. And by well I mean well for our communities.
HOLLINGSWORTHWe are often responsive to and beholden to other constituencies that ultimately end up neglecting the needs of our communities. And in large part, the reasons why we got involved in the first. And so I'm hoping Our Black Party is going to be able to provide not just the mandate, but also the money for Black elected officials and those who are interested in politics to really be able to do it and have a backbone that they need to be able to do the job well.
NNAMDIMayor Hollingsworth, how did you get your start in politics?
HOLLINGSWORTHWell, you know, I have always been the type of person whose like, Oh, I can help. I can do that. Yeah, you know, you dig in, roll sleeves up and you get to work. And then you end up being in positions. You're like, wait, how did I get here? That was not what I thought I was doing. And that's kind of what happened with being involved in the City of Hyattsville. I didn't have being elected to office on any 20 year plan. I don't even have a 20 year plan.
HOLLINGSWORTHSo moved here in December of 2009, and because I decided that this was going to be home -- I'm originally from Memphis, Tennessee. And because I decided this was going to be home, I said, all right, I got to pay attention to what's happening around me. And in doing that, I noticed that there weren't folks on the Council at that time that was paying attention to the things that were important to me, like young -- events and activities for young people, for investments in local schools, for public education, doing community development in a way that doesn't ignore the existing community that is already there.
HOLLINGSWORTHAnd so, I said, you know, what, I'll do this. I'll get involved. I'll run. What's the worst that can happen, is I'll lose. Well, I didn't lose and so now here we are. Yeah, so that's how it started. It was really just around a desire to get involved and to get active and it just really morphed overtime into something that is with a title, although there are so many leaders in our community that do this without a title.
NNAMDIWell, you're an activist who became a politician. Now you're a politician and you're a part of the founding of Our Black Party. What exactly is Our Black Party? How did the group get started?
HOLLINGSWORTHSo Our Black Party is -- I like to be very technical and tell folks the truth about what an organization is. We are a political organization that is currently established as a pack where our goal is to be able to pass policies that enhance and empower the Black agenda, and so that it's policies at the national level, but most importantly at the local level in our cities, our schoolboards and counties and states.
HOLLINGSWORTHWe got started -- and I'm serving as national co-chair and have a phenomenal group of colleagues, who are working with us on the national steering committee along with our national co-chair Dr. Wes Bellamy out of Charlottesville, Virginia. There has long been an idea that Black folks need our own thing for many years. But this year in particular with what happened after George Floyd, Briana Taylor, I think just the exhaustion that Black folks feel generally, for me I felt compelled to work with this group of young leaders, because I felt, you know, it is time for the messages and the consistent work that community organizers and activists have done on the ground it's time for that to really permeate our halls of power.
HOLLINGSWORTHAnd in order to do that, I wanted to use my experience as an elected official to help navigate the things that I have identified through my experience that can often serve as barriers to us really getting consequential policy passed. And so how can we create something that helps, you know, harness the power that communities naturally have and be a voice for those communities in those places where often our faces, our voices, are largely absent. And to make sure that elected officials have the resources that they need to do the work that everyone is expecting them to do. And then at the end of the day holding everyone accountable to what we said we want to accomplish.
NNAMDIWell, the names you mentioned are the names that are in the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement. You say that Our Black Party is also a political action committee. Is there a merging at some point between the Black Lives Matter movement and Our Black Party? Are you so to speak, the political arm of the Black Lives Matter movement or is that what you intend to be?
HOLLINGSWORTHSo I want to be very clear. Black Lives Matter movement as the global network actually has a pack of their own where they are also harnessing a Black electoral power. Movement for Black Lives has started to work to harness that power through the Electoral Justice Project. And that is the organization that is really kind of brought to life some of those -- they've created the policy agenda in many ways through the Breathe Act, which many of you have likely heard about.
HOLLINGSWORTHBut it's important that we acknowledge that one of the very markers of white supremacy is this idea of competition and that there can only be one. And for us it's really about acknowledging that there are so many organizations that are a part of this ecosystem of groups and people and, you know, organizations that are intended to work together and in concert to improve the quality of life for Black people.
HOLLINGSWORTHSo I view us as an intentional collaborator with these organizations and that our charge is to make sure that we build together and that we don't do anything that undermines the efforts and the activities of those organizations because those organizations most intimately reflect the desires and the attitudes and the positions of the communities that put us and folks in elected office in power.
NNAMDIHere is Keith in White Plains, Maryland. Keith, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEITHHey, Kojo. Long time listener, first time caller. I was just interested to know if the OBP would advocate for a more conservative economic platform or a more progressive economic platform. And I'll take my answer off air. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Mayor Hollingsworth.
HOLLINGSWORTHSure. You know, I think -- I love that this conversation prompted someone who's listened for a long time to call in. So I love that. But I think it's important to recognize that the very foundation of this country is actually conservative, because it is anti-Black. It is anti-other. And by nature an agenda that supports Black lives is naturally progressive, small "p" progressive. And so I think it's important for us and one of the things that we are working to be very clear about is that it's not about a liberal or conservative or Democrat or anything.
HOLLINGSWORTHThis is about focusing in on and honing in on the needs and quality of life for Black people, and because doing that is a naturally progressive idea. It is a naturally radical idea. The economic policies that emerge from that will inevitable be those that are contrary to anything that we have experienced before. But at the same time I will still underline the fact that I don't think there's anything in the Black agenda that if passed is not good for everyone.
NNAMDIMayor Hollingsworth, Britney tweets and you have to answer this after the break. But I'll say it before. Britney tweets, "I really appreciate the work of Mayor Hollingsworth. One of the challenges in Maryland is that independents are unable to run or vote in the primary elections as this is limited to Democrats and Republicans, but the primaries are where elections are decided. How do we navigate this?" Hold your response to that question, Mayor Hollingsworth. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Candace Hollingsworth. She is the Mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland and Chief Organizer of Our Black Party. Before we took that break, Mayor Hollingsworth, I was reading a tweet from Britney. Hopefully you remember it and are prepared to respond.
HOLLINGSWORTHI am. And I love that question. And although Our Black Party has not -- we have not formally adopted this as a part of our platform, I personally believe this is why open primaries are important. And we have to remember that many of the rules and structures that we operate in were established and are kept as so so that they preserve power and make it easier for people to preserve a status quo. So until such time we have, you know, an opportunity where we have open primaries, I think one of the ways that Our Black Party really hopes to contribute to this challenge that many independents face is that when we are endorsing candidates, we are looking at -- our kind of measure is the Black agenda.
HOLLINGSWORTHSo where do you see on the objectives of the Black agenda, the policy priorities of the Black agenda and what are your commitments to being able to implement and execute some of these things and endorsing along those ways. So that even in areas where we have closed primaries that people can go into the booth and know, this is where this person stands on these issues that are important to Black people and Black communities.
HOLLINGSWORTHSo all that to say, I think that is work that we have to do on state level, it is definitely a state action item for us to work on to make sure that we give -- that we enfranchise folks who are already in the primary phase of these elections that we give people an opportunity to voice their desires at that time too. And not just in the general election.
NNAMDIHere's Malcolm in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Malcolm, your turn.
MALCOLMGood afternoon. I'll try to be as quite as possible. I wanted to know, Mayor, if you're aware of a movement and organization called ADOS, which stands for American Descendants of Slavery. They have a platform -- front of their platform is reparations specifically for descendants of slavery not black immigrants who come from the Caribbean or Africa. They support their agenda for reparations with research, and not just by Randall Robinson, but also a man named Sandy Darity. I don't want to be divisive. I'm not a member of the organization, but I am compelled to listen to their theories. They have a lot of support and a lot of data.
NNAMDILet me have Mayor Hollingsworth respond.
HOLLINGSWORTHYeah. I'm very familiar with ADOS. And I am very familiar with the primary policy objectives of ADOS. And I want to be very clear that Our Black Party is part of an ecosystem of organizations. And so that doesn't mean that the work that we do is to the exclusion of others or that it should be done to like I said undermine the work of other organizations. We have on the platform, because it is part of the Black agenda, reparations for Black people in this country. I also believe that it's very important that we recognize that the diversity of political thought that exists for Black people in this country.
HOLLINGSWORTHAnd that we have diversity among -- even ethnic diversity among Black people in this country is important that we acknowledge the contributions of diaspora not just to, you know, our population numbers, but rather the ways that those experiences through descendants of slaves in those countries also contributes to the Black experience in America. And that we also recognize that Black folks who are immigrants in this country, we are still operating in a very anti-Black context. So someone looking at folks, they're still going to have a very similar experience of Black folks in America in this present time.
HOLLINGSWORTHAnd so our work is to acknowledge and to address those present conditions while also doing the work to repair the harm and the wages and money and income and wealth that was stolen from generations of descendants of slaves from years ago. So I think our work is a combination of all of that.
NNAMDIAnd you just brought Kamala Harris and yours truly back into the conversation. What do you think are some of the most important issues Black people face today? And how do you see the two main political parties addressing or not addressing those challenges?
HOLLINGSWORTHYeah. So I think some of our major challenges right now -- and it can't be understated. On our website at www.ourblackparty.org, there is a survey where we're asking folks to give their contributions to what they believe should be prioritized in the Black agenda. And we use, again, as a foundation for our work is the Black Agenda 2020 that was developed by Black to the Future Action Fund as a result of their Black census that they did a couple of years ago.
HOLLINGSWORTHAnd so we are asking people, what do you think is the number one issue or what issues do you feel are missing from Black agenda? And I will tell you that our early review of that data that's coming in is indicating that the number one thing on Black folks mind is COVID-19, how we are addressing it as a country to minimize the harm that has already been done and to also make sure that we're just -- we're living. Folks are scared for their lives quite literally.
HOLLINGSWORTHSo that's the number one thing, but addition to that, I think the major issue that we have to also address and we see it so very clearly even now with the number of lawsuits that the Trump campaign has issued as a result of this general election, is voter suppression that has been enabled by Shelby vs. Holder and kind of the deliberate undermining of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And so I think those are all things -- those are two primary things that we're going to make sure that we work very strategically to address over the next few months.
NNAMDIGot an email from someone who says, "How is a party pushing a Black agenda any different from a party pushing a white agenda? It isn't. At a time when this country seems to be making progress on racial issues, I find it sad and disappointing that people think this is the time to divide ourselves rather than to unify and stop drawing lines among ourselves based on color." Mayor Hollingsworth, how would you respond to that?
HOLLINGSWORTHI find it sad and disappointing that people do not recognize that the state of Black America right now has not really dramatically improved in decades. And so I think for people -- when people bring that argument to the table in my opinion, it is one that allows them to be comfortable. No one really likes to hear that Black folks want to take charge of their power or that we have the audacity to believe that we are powerful. And I think those are the types of sentiments that, to be quite frank, that's not the type of person that I would envision wanting to be a part of Our Black Party because fundamentally you have to believe that Black people have a right to own their politics.
HOLLINGSWORTHWe are not obligated to work in service of folks and make them continue to feel comfortable in a political system that has done everything to disqualify the role of Black people in this country. So, you know, like I said before, there is nothing in the Black agenda that I think does not work for everyone. And so if that's not the message that you agree with that's fine, but we are definitely focused on the needs of Black people and Black communities and we are doing that unequivocally.
NNAMDIOnly have a minute left, but here is Harold in Elkridge, Maryland. Harold, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAROLDHey. I teach at Howard Law School, and I was very interested in what you were saying and I wanted to see if there's some way I can get my students involved in what you're doing.
HOLLINGSWORTHAbsolutely. One of our top priorities in spring actually at the end of winter beginning of spring is to really work with engaging young people that are on college campuses and young people who are coming into their own political identities as young adults. My son is one of those folks. So we would definitely love to make sure that we are connecting with all of young people across the country particularly at HBCUs. And please send me an email. I would love to connect with you on that. You can send it to me directly at email@example.com.
NNAMDIAnd what's the website for Our Black Party?
HOLLINGSWORTHWww.ourblackparty.org. There's a survey as well as a membership form to complete there as well.
NNAMDICandace Hollingsworth, she is the Mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland and Chief Organizer of Our Black Party. Mayor Hollingsworth, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you.
HOLLINGSWORTHThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're talking with award-winning young adult Author Lamar Giles on Kojo For Kids where we're taking calls from kids only. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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