Ja’Mal Green is no stranger to taking risks for what he believes in. The 23-year-old Chicagoan has been seen everywhere from community rallies to national town hall meetings speaking out on issues including city spending, public school funding, and police brutality.
At 15, he started Majostee Allstars, a community organization that organizes peace marches and school tours. He is the co-founder of the Major Green Music record label.
And now the community activist is making history as the youngest candidate to run for Chicago mayor.
Green filed paperwork with Illinois State Board of Elections in April to create the political committee Green For Chicago and is on the February 2019 ballot.
Youth Radio correspondent Kyler Sumter spoke with Green about his campaign and his decision to seek Chicago’s top job.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Kyler Sumter: When and why did you decide to run for mayor?
Ja’Mal Green: Earlier this year, I talked with some mentors about how we’re going to make sure that this is the (current) mayor’s last term. I asked them about running because I have some mentors that are pretty well connected in the city, and they were not interested.
I didn’t know exactly where to start, and I had to build the infrastructure as well as wanting to create a platform that speaks for all communities. I started 13 committees, and I put experts in different policy fields whether that was home ownership, education, cannabis, LGBTQ, women’s rights, etc. to work on committees to talk about how to move forward policies in those departments that they were experts in, and we created an amazing platform.
What does it feel like to be the youngest person in this race?
The youngest person in history [to run for mayor of Chicago]! It’s definitely a history-making moment, but it’s not about making history for me. It’s more about how I want to be able to inspire young people all over the city — and all over the country — to step up, to speak out, to do what’s right, to be civically engaged, and to do something positive.
Me running for mayor represents young people everywhere and what we’re able to do. I guess it’s a proud feeling, but I will feel prouder once I have seen young people step up and continue speaking out like they’re doing around the country.
What are your biggest worries/concerns about the city?
That there are kids who won’t make it to the next day. Kids are being killed at an alarming rate right now. In Chicago, if you live in the South, West or East Sides you are lucky to be able to make it to the age of 21. It’s a celebration. And my worry is all those families and all those kids who are losing their lives.
I think that’s one thing that keeps me up and stays on my mind. We’ve got to save our young people because they are the future. And the elder generations, their time is almost up. We’re killing off our next politicians, our next lawyers, our next doctors.
You’ve spoken out publicly against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the city’s selective spending in certain Chicago neighborhoods. How will your platform address the city’s spending issues?
That’s one of my biggest issues. We have not prioritized all communities in the city of Chicago. When we prioritize certain communities, they’re getting a lot of funding. We have to make sure we have a financial tool that benefits other communities that aren’t giving benefits and not continue pouring into these communities that get investments when it’s not happening in other places.
I’m going to create a financial tool or change the way that TIF (Tax Increment Financing) works to make sure that there will be money going into a fund that will benefit the South, West and East Side communities. And I’m going to attract economic interests to these communities, whether that is grocery stores or whether that is a big company that will bring jobs that’ll spur that economic growth that these communities need.
Violence is an issue that constantly comes up when Chicago is mentioned. If elected, how will you work to help combat violence and make Chicago safer?
Part of that is definitely that economic plan. Another part of that is, I have that experience. I’ve been on the streets and seen all these problems firsthand. I’m connected to a lot of the people in the streets as well.
I will be able to push different programs and initiatives in these communities that I know will work, that I know will reach the people and empower the people in these communities that are doing the work to expand.
I’m not going to come in as mayor and try to set up shop everywhere and do all the work myself. I’m going to go help expand those who have been doing the work for so many years that need the resources and funding.
And we’ve got to invest in technology in the police department — we have cameras that never work when something happens. We need to make sure we have updated technology.
What are some of your favorite things about Chicago?
The culture. The way we speak to each other, the colloquialisms. The love what Chicago gives you.
People living in poverty in these neighborhoods that have these bad schools, that are seeing people get shot, you would think they would be depressed. And they’re not. They still love each other, they still show love to each other, especially those that are working on their behalf, and the city of Chicago really shows them love. And they still have hope.
That’s motivating. That’s something that I love, that people still have hope that things can change.
You can find more information about Green’s campaign here.