By Vienne Linsalata age 9
Jabari Brisport is a socialist politician, middle school math teacher, actor and the first Black openly gay state senator-elect for New York’s 25th District. He is fighting for equal access to quality education, combating climate change, enacting criminal justice reform and creating a better response to the COVID-19 pandemic. IndyKids spoke with Jabari to ask him a few questions about himself and his platform.
Vienne: How did growing up in Prospect Heights, and in a family of immigrants, influence your interest and desire to go into politics?
Jabari: My dad immigrated from Guyana. My mom was born here, though her mom was an immigrant from Guyana, as well. When I was a child, we would take trips to my family’s home country, and I’d get a chance to experience life in a developing nation. I got to see how even though we had toilets at our house in Brooklyn, I had cousins that only knew an outhouse. I got to see the canal my father used to bathe in because he didn’t grow up with indoor plumbing. While my official journey to politics didn’t start for years later, it has always stuck with me that our current system isn’t fair. Some people have access to a lot, while others have access to a little, and so much of it comes down to being born into the right family, in the right part of the world.
Vienne: You went from being a public school teacher to a state senator. That’s a pretty big leap. What steps did you have to take to go from teacher to senator?
Jabari: First of all, let me say how much I’m going to miss my students! It’s been a really tough year, but they never cease to impress me, and I’m sad I won’t be seeing them every day once I take office.
As a teacher, I spend a lot of my time working with families to try to find workarounds to the challenges my students face. When a student loses their home, that impacts their ability to learn. When they don’t have access to Wi-Fi or textbooks, that impacts them, too. I do my best to find “Band-Aids” so that student can get the best education under the circumstances, but they shouldn’t have to experience those things in the first place.
That’s why I’ve spent my nights and weekends as an activist and community organizer, fighting for changes to the systems that keep my students from having equitable access to the future they deserve. Unfortunately, politicians don’t always listen, so becoming a state senator is a way to bring those issues directly to Albany.
Vienne: How has being Black and queer influenced your experience in politics?
Jabari: I’ve had the displeasure of being in Black spaces that were homophobic, and queer spaces that were racist. I’ve been followed late at night and had people shout racial or homophobic epithets at me. When you feel like there’s a target on your back because of who you are, you end up fighting for a world where no one has to experience that.
Vienne: Could you describe some of the issues and policies that are most important to you.
Jabari: There’s a lot on our plates, but my main concern is keeping New Yorkers safe and healthy. Giving every last person in this state all the medical care that they need, free of charge, has always been my goal, and it’s never been more important. Beyond healthcare, we want to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to those basic things that enable us to survive and thrive, like fully funded public schools and universal access to housing.
Vienne: How can we give kids from low-income backgrounds and kids of color the same opportunities as any other kid?
Jabari: We have to start by ensuring that everyone has access to the basic necessities, like food, a home and healthcare. Right now where you are born and how well-off your parents are often determines whether or not you get these things. We need to recognize that these are universal rights. As a teacher, I can tell you that kids who are hungry, scared or sick don’t have the same opportunity to learn and do well in school.
We also need to fund the schools they attend. In one of the wealthiest places on the planet, I’ve had to buy classroom supplies out of my own paycheck because our public schools are so badly underfunded. This year, our governor decided to put even less money toward public education—at a moment when poor students are facing new and greater challenges than ever. That is not OK.
Vienne: Kids in my generation care deeply about climate change and the planet. What do you plan to do to combat climate change and help people who are impacted by it?
Jabari: I’m so impressed by how committed kids are to stopping climate change and building a greener world. Young people today know that it’s going to take more than remembering to recycle. Our community has to stand up to the many corporations that currently make money by massively polluting our air and our water.
That’s why I’m going to introduce and support bills that would build energy-efficient public housing, dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and commit $10 billion a year to helping New York communities fight climate change. Lives are on the line, so we have to think big to reduce our carbon footprint and make New York safer and more livable for everyone.
Vienne: I’ve read that socialism has shaped a lot of your political ideas. What does socialism mean to you, and what role does it play in your political platform?
Jabari: To me, socialism is about putting people’s basic needs above the profits of corporations and the ultra-rich. As a socialist, I believe that it matters a lot more that each of us has a roof over our heads and a doctor when we’re sick than that our bosses get to fly first class or on a private jet.
That’s why I want to enact laws that give you all the healthcare you need, regardless of how much money you have. That’s why I want to make sure every New Yorker has access to a safe home, and why I think that everyone who wants to go to college should be able to do so without having to worry about the cost.
Socialism is remembering that we’re a community, and caring less about “I got mine” and more about “I got you.”
Vienne: Why do you think socialist ideas are becoming so much more popular with young people, New Yorkers and Americans?
Jabari: Sadly, it’s becoming more obvious every day how unequal our society is. The pandemic is affecting poor people—and especially poor people of color—worse than rich people, and I think Americans are right to ask why it has to be this way. Once you start asking that question, you realize that it doesn’t have to be this way! There are countries where they give everyone free healthcare without a second thought! Places where the whole community works together for a greener life, where public schools have all the resources students need to get a good education. And you know what? There’s no reason we can’t do that in New York! A better America is absolutely possible, and there’s no reason why we can’t start building it right here.