Politics is Local… So Vote!
Representative Yolanda Young was elected as a Missouri state representative in 2019, and her first term began in January 2020. She represents Jackson County which includes Kansas City. Representative Young has lived in Jackson County since the 1980s and has deeply committed herself to the community through outreach and advocacy for children and families. She also helped develop an urban farm that helps to provide healthy produce in the neighborhood.
Below is an excerpt from Maryalice’s interview. To listen to the whole episode, download Listen, Ladies in iTunes.
Listen, Ladies (LL): I would first like to check in on you as well as on your constituents. COVID-19 is very much a concern in Kansas City and across the country, and there is a tremendous amount of progress and emotions in connection to the continued injustices faced by people of color in this country. It is really weighing on people. So how are you doing and how are your constituents doing?
Yolanda Young (YY): I am doing well. Gratefully, unlike some of my constituents, I have not contracted the virus nor has anyone in my household. So, that is a blessing in itself. I still am very concerned about the increasing numbers that we have here in Missouri, and the impact that it has had in so many different areas of our lives, which includes the increase in the unemployment rate, and the lack of food supplies. There is a whole list of things that have negatively impacted our folks due to COVID-19. While I worry, I am hopeful that at some point we will be able to have a “new normal” going forward.
Everyone is watching what is happening all around the world and they are sharing their feelings about what is happening. I think we are living in very telling times. This is an opportunity for the country to move forward on issues that have gone unaddressed for a long time. We have to move forward in a way that equalizes the playing field for a lot of people including: African Americans and other people of color and the poor. It saddens me that it had to take the death of Mr. Floyd, to trigger this type of response we have been seeing, but he light at the end of the tunnel is, that we might be able to get something done in terms of improving our criminal justice system and improving the way in which we police in our country. Sometimes it takes deep suffering and unfortunately, even the death of someone to move things forward–it is sad that it had to take the death of Mr. Floyd and others who have suffered at the hands of police officers, who are not doing their job properly. I do believe that some good can come out of it as long as we direct our energies in the right way. We are seeing that now.
LL: What would going in the right direction look like? A lot of people are talking about police reform, and that is only one piece of systemic racism. What are some incremental changes that you think either a month down the line or a year down the line if they’re in place will show that we have really started moving in the right direction? Are there any specific things that you are looking at that you feel like could be accomplished?
YY: I know there’s a big discussion about defunding the police. Depending on who you speak with, you get different answers for that. This is a new initiative, something that we have never done before. I think what I understand the crux of the issue is, is that there is a huge amount of money that the government spends on law enforcement right now. There are more helpful services that we can incorporate, like violence prevention programs. One of the programs that I have worked with for many years, when I was working for my not-for-profit, was a violence prevention program that was funded through combat. We created a lot of alternative afterschool programs for children to keep them off the streets. It was as simple as that. I think that more services like violence prevention programs and even job training or counseling might benefit people. I think it has been so overwhelming with what has been happening recently, that I have not been able to sit down and figure out what exactly we need to do going forward. I am a person that feels like my constituents, the voters, put me in this office, so without their voice and their direction, I really don’t feel like I can move in one way or another unless I know for certain what they want.
LL: That makes a lot of sense to really understand what your constituents are focused on and what they want before you make your own determinations about the policy you are going to push for. With that in mind, I am wondering if you would be willing to tell us a little bit more about your district, who you represent, and what issues are at the top of your mind because of that.
YY: We have a lot of elderly people in our district. A lot of single-family homes, predominantly minority, African American. We are at the lower end of the income strata. But there are a lot of assets that we have in the district. We have a number of schools, churches, and small businesses. We are the home of Kaufman Stadium and the Chief’s Stadium, we have Bruce Walkers Multicultural Center here in my district. But the greatest asset that we have are the strong, active community leaders and the faith-based leaders that are working hard especially during COVID-19. They are working hard with their neighbors and their congregations and their parishioners to get through this pandemic.
LL: Can you give a few examples of how the community has come together to figure out what the issues are and to address them in creative and effective ways?
YY: One of the basic things that I noticed people doing right away, was trying to get masks to people. People who made masks, and people who were able to order masks have just given masks out to the folks that need it. The lack of food has been an issue for a lot of people, because we have been on lockdown at home, and a lot of people have not been able to get out or have chosen not to go out for fear of contracting the virus. There have been a lot of local food drives in the district, churches and leaders who are there to help people out during this hard time. We have had people who have volunteered their time to take people to the doctor or to appointments as needed. We have people who have delivered books for children to read since school is closed. So, we have seen people mobilize and be good samaritans.