Throughout her life as an activist and public servant Jamilah Nasheed has worked hard to tear away barriers. A former member of the Missouri House of Representatives and now halfway through her second term as a state senator, she’s set her sights on removing obstacles beyond the borders of 5th district as a candidate for President of the Board of Aldermen for the city of St. Louis.
With the forthcoming election on March 5, voters are discovering that Nasheed is a heavy hitter. A focused force for change with a no-nonsense assertiveness, she is currently deploying her experiences, both legislative and personal, in a progressive platform that addresses the complex issues of today, including urban crime, which Nasheed sees as a public health crisis. Confronting this issue is paramount to her campaign, which supports working with social services, law enforcement, churches and communities as way to find lasting solutions.
Raised by her grandmother in the Darst-Webbe projects, Nasheed’s early life was marked by tragedy. Following his return from Vietnam her father was killed in a drive-by shooting at Pruitt Igoe. Two years later, her mother committed suicide when Jamilah was two.
Undeterred by this adversity, Nasheed used her life experiences as a call to arms for activism and helping others. As a result she is resolved to make the city and its citizens lives better. These formative years, forged with her political career and activist roots, are the basis for a campaign
that emphasizes the core principles she’s championed throughout her public life: criminal justice, human rights, improved education and health services, tackling homelessness, nurturing local business and stimulating the city’s economy.
A firm believer in uniting communities in these tempestuous times, Nasheed spoke to the Vital Voice about her campaign, why politics are so personal to her and how she will benefit the LGBTIA+ community.
What made you decide on a career in public service?
I didn’t choose it. It wasn’t my choice. I was an entrepreneur for 10 years and an activist. I became involved when a man I knew named Eddie Hassan asked me to run for office. At that time, I was a hardcore activist, and activists usually don’t like politicians. They don’t really trust them. I was reminded that I was on the outside for a very long time and that it was time to go on the inside and make a difference from within.
It started from my activism, but really took off when they cut health care benefits and my grandmother wasn’t able to pay for her prescription medicines. This really bothered me. When they cut Medicaid and Medicare, I knew I needed to fight for her. So I ran for office and have been in office for 12 years now.
After serving in the Missouri House of Representatives and as a state senator, what challenges does serving as President of the Board of Aldermen offer you?
I think it offers more opportunities than challenges. The reason that I say that is because I have been in a structured environment for 12 years and understand the parliamentary process. The Board of Aldermen, right now, I don’t think they follow rules. Individuals can come down there with jeans on; you have lobbyists on the floor. When I get there that’s going to be a no-no. You are not going to have lobbyists sitting in the chamber next to the person that is about to take a vote. We don’t do that in the Senate. They can’t come into the House, and I don’t think they should be able to do it here locally. Another opportunity that it gives me is that I have great relationships on the state level so I can be advocating on behalf of the city with those relationships that I have.
Right now, the Board of Alderman, they don’t even function with an overall agenda for the city of St. Louis. More than ever, we need a leader at the Board of Aldermen that is going to bridge the divide between north and south, do away with the decisiveness down there at the Board and who will empower the aldermen to do the things the things they feel they need to do for the betterment of the people that they represent. As president I’ll be that that mouthpiece for the Board of Aldermen.
As President of the Board of Aldermen, how will you serve the needs of your LGBTQIA+ constituents?
Right now we have a serious problem with homelessness within the LGBTQIA+ community. What we need to do now, more than ever before,
is to make it equitable for them in terms of them having an opportunity to stay in the shelters no matter what their sexual orientationor gender identity may be. We want to make sure that they are not left out in the cold, especially transgender people. They should not be discriminated upon because of someagenda.
The issues that I will be fighting for are helping the unhoused, stopping discrimination and helping educators, especially in high schools understand what the LGBTQIA+ community deals with when it comes to bullying and intimidation. I want to make sure they are treated fairly as human beings.
What encouragement can you offer those in the LGBTQIA+ community who feel they have been shunned from the political process?
I am going to be a voice for them. I am going to listen and execute on their agenda. Whatever their agenda is, I am going to learn it, I am going to listen, and I’m going to push for it, so they can live a more comfortable and better lifestyle.
How has holding public office changed you as a leader?
I have grown tremendously. I am not the same person I was when I first ran in 2006. I don’t think the same way. I’m more methodical in my thinking process. I also am more pragmatic in the way I do things now. It used to be, if it wasn’t my way, it was the highway. But I don’t think like that anymore because I truly believe that, in order to get things done, you have to find that middle ground. I’ve had to do that under the control of a Republican House, Senate and governor’s mansion, not to mention the supermajority. During my time there, I’ve managed to get over 20 pieces of legislation passed. I’ve had to learn the art of sitting down at the table with people I don’t like or agree with to try and find a middle course.
Contesting Jamilah Nasheed for President of the Board of Aldermen are Megan Green (D-15thWard) and incumbent President Lewis Reed (D). For more information on her platform, policies and personal story visit jamilahnasheed.com.