A Brooklyn College alumnus began a campaign hoping to earn a position as a Brooklyn city councilmember and try his hand at city government.
If elected to city council, Jamell Henderson, 31, born in East Flatbush and resident of the NYCHA Kingsborough Houses in Crown Heights, will be representing District 41 – which covers Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East Flatbush and Crown Heights.
Henderson received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Brooklyn College in 2015, before moving on to earn a master’s from Baruch in Public Administration and participated in the National Urban Fellows program, a program that introduces college graduates to public service and local government.
“I try to tell people that if you have the passion to serve because you are a person who has directly seen or witnessed what has been going on in your community, and you feel strong and confident that you can change that; then don’t ever be afraid to stand up and challenge the machine,” said Henderson. “People are looking for new, innovative leaders. They’re not looking for the same old, same old. They’re looking for people who have a mindset that’s independent. A person who puts the people first, instead of themselves.”
Recent acceptance to CUNY Graduate Center and in pursuit of a second master’s degree, this time in political science, is directly reflective of what Henderson’s priorities will be if elected to city council. Public education and public transparency within the community will be his mission.
“We are living in an environment right now where learning about society and everyday life, period, is a challenge, in that public schools are constantly being overlooked and down upon,” said Henderson. “It’s important that people in our community receive high quality education. It should not be that because you live in a particular area that you should receive top quality education; that should be across the board.”
The decision to run for city council was solidified when Henderson watched President Obama’s final speech. As the former-president urged citizens that did not like what they experienced in their community to challenge their politicians, a passion sparked in Henderson to get involved.
Currently, Henderson is registered with the state and city board of elections and has accumulated a treasurer and campaign manager. As of right now, the focus is to diligently campaign until June, when it will be time to petition for a spot on the ballot and meet the requirement of 900 signatures from within his district. “Right now is just campaign-mode. It’s all about fundraising and visibility,” said Henderson.
One challenge facing city council candidates without prior political experience or mentoring is something Henderson refers to as the “wait your turn virus,” a treatment by fellow candidates that slightly demeans the inexperienced. In response, Henderson noted that this mentality “kills our communities because then it seems we don’t have a strong backbone. We don’t have the courage to stand up for issues that really affect everyday people.”
Henderson recalls a summer retreat in 2012, just after graduating from Borough of Manhattan Community College and before arriving at Brooklyn College, where he vowed that he would run for student government. Not long after, Henderson ran for CLAS president, losing by about 100 votes, but walked away with a “support system and new-found drive to challenge the status quo.”
He has credited himself to re-chartering the NAACP club at Brooklyn College, which was said to have been inactive for years, as well as served as president of the Caribbean Students Union, member of the Black and Latino Male Initiative and was selected for the 2014 CUNY Model Senate Program.
“Brooklyn is my family. And when that family recognizes someone in need, they really step up and step in to help out, from students to administration to faculty,” said Henderson. “You should never be afraid to follow your heart and follow your dreams because you never know who may support you and who may believe in you. We live in a society where we can’t be afraid.”
He continued, “And this college prepares us for that outside world. I often tell people: BMCC has my heart, but Brooklyn College has my soul. If it wasn’t for Brooklyn College, I wouldn’t be the person that I am right now and that’s the God’s honest truth.”
Elections for city council representatives will begin in September of this year.