Ready for change: Running for office as a 21-year-old college student

When I made the decision to run for school board in Kansas City, Kansas, I knew I would be challenged because of my youth, but I couldn’t sit back and wait to make a change because of my age.

I made the decision to run for school board out of anger. I was mad at the lack of diverse representation on the board and in our schools. I was mad at non-transparent decisions that were being made. I was mad at all the cat fighting no one could control.

There were many problems I saw as a community member and recent graduate of the district. I knew I couldn’t run off anger, so I spent the next few months speaking with parents, teachers, students, administrators and community members and learned more and more of the challenges our district faced.

I know one day I want to have kids, but I want my kids to have a world-class education, along with the rest of the students in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, because they are all world-class students.

Despite my age, I decided that I had a message the people of KCK could understand. I was in special education and had an individualized education program. I lost a year of education when my mother was deported. I had poor test scores on any standardized test. I was the story of many students in USD 500.

In politics today, I know people are looking for real candidates that represent them, speak to them, look like them and fight for them.

Therefore, I made the decision that my name should be on the ballot for the USD 500 Board of Education on Nov. 5—to be a student representing students and fighting for the equitable education our students deserve.

I knew as the youngest candidate in the race for school board (and now the youngest candidate on the ballot in Wyandotte county), I had to prove myself—and I would say I did.

I have raised over $3,000 in campaign funds and attended more parades and 5k’s than any of my opponents. Our campaign has received a national endorsement from Run for Something, a state endorsement from Kansas Families for Education and local endorsements from Mainstream Coalition and National Education Association KCK.

The campaign I dreamed of to fight for students has come to life with people from all ages, parties, races and cultures.

I will admit that when I made the decision to run, I was scared. I was scared because I was a recent high school student and a weird college kid. And yes, I have changed since then, but nevertheless, I was a womanizer. I had trouble respecting women and their space, and I wasn’t the most appropriate person.

But it wasn’t until I began being politically involved that I recognized what I have done in my past was not acceptable. I have learned, I have grown, and I have and will continue to apologize to anyone who ever felt that I was ‘too much.’

I have encountered some challenges in the campaign as well. I am a full-time student with a full-time job and a girlfriend, and that can be very time consuming. But on the political level, I’ve been judged as ‘too flip-floppy’ because I get along with everyone, so people assume I am part of a group. I’ve been accused of being part of the establishment and taking money from past USD 500 administration. I’ve been told I am too young and don’t know anything about the school board (as I assumed someone would say at some point).

Despite all the negatives that come my way, I know it’s all politics. We still have a fight to ensure each student across USD 500 is reached, no matter their race, gender, class or education level. We have to fight to ensure Hispanic representation on the board. We have to fight to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion training. We have to fight to hire more teachers and administrators of color, and we have a fight to ensure all decisions are made for students first.

I am proud to be the only school board candidate bringing up conversations about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, which is an important conversation in an urban school district with predominantly black and Hispanic students.

I may be a 21-year-old college student, but I have a story all areas across USD 500 can relate to. This November, USD 500 has a chance to vote for a change of voice and actual representation, and I’m sure a 21-year-old Generation Z candidate can and will be that change.

garyenriquebradley-lopez@mail.umkc.edu

1 Comment

  1. Maria Reed

    September 5, 2019 at 12:09 PM

    “And yes, I have changed since then, but nevertheless, I was a womanizer. I had trouble respecting women and their space, and I wasn’t the most appropriate person.”

    He’ll do great in politics.

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