A few weeks ago, while campaigning in the heart of Treme, a lanky dark complexioned 20 year old introduced himself to me. He said, "my is name is Jonathan." He said that he wanted to learn about public service. He said, "look at my neighborhood Mr. James. No one cares about what's happening here. I want to learn about politics, so that I can do something. Can I work with you?"
After a brief conversation, Jonathan began volunteering on my campaign almost immediately. We became friends. I learned a lot about him. He was the first in his family to finish high school. His father died when he was very young. His Mother, has been living in Houston since Hurricane Katrina. His Grandmother is a service industry worker and cancer survivor. She's also an incredible cook. Working together, his Mother and Grandmother have struggled to make a way for him.
Jonathan recounted story after story of how he almost didn't make it: from police harassment, to violence in New Orleans streets to his harrowing experience in Hurricane Katrina. It was clear from his very demeanor that he felt lucky to even be alive.
What I didn't tell him was that I felt equally lucky. Jonathan and I had both seen scores of friends and acquaintances die young in New Orleans. Some were victims of murder. Others died addicted to drugs. A few contracted AIDS. Regardless of how they died, there was an unfortunate constant: their lives were consumed in the harsh streets of New Orleans. Even at 14 years my minor, Jonathan and I had seen many of the same horrors and both of us had narrowly escaped them. In the minds of some, we had made it.
But, we both knew, that as long as our relative success stood as an aberration, rather than the norm, our community was predestined for failure.
My loss in this weekend's election was tough. All through my 20's there were two police officers who would harass me every time that they saw me. Even arresting me on occasion: once for having tinted windows (when in fact my windows weren't tinted) and another time for illegal lane usage. None of the harassment amounted to anything more serious than charges for minor traffic offenses. However, my opponent made the arrests and tickets a campaign issue that caused my support in conservative circles to wane.
Further, progressive and social justice minded white and African American voters didn't turn out in sufficient numbers. Around 9% of registered voters actually cast votes. Many of those who didn't vote were preoccupied with Memorial day. Some figured that their vote didn't count. They were apoplectic after having been failed by so many elected officials over the years.
Further, my opponent, successfully rallied conservatives to reclaim what had been widely regarded as the civil rights seat.
Some have asked what's next for me. Of course I don't know my exact future or path. But I do know that I remain inspired. As the slander and gamesmanship peaked during this campaign. Jonathan grounded me. He reminded me why I had gotten in the fight.
I was fighting to save a community overwrought by political failure, disinvestment and social and racial segregation. As long as these failures persist, so shall my fight.
I am fighting to end New Orleans' reign as the City with the second highest AIDS/HIV rate in the Nation. I'm fighting to end New Orleans' reign as the murder capital of the Nation. I'm fighting to end New Orleans' reign as America's blight capital. In fact, I won't rest until Jonathan's success is no longer an anomaly, rather it must become the norm.