Class of 2008 | A.B. Public Policy
Over 200 people have gathered in a room towards the back of the Little Black Pearl—an art and design center in Hyde Park—to celebrate the kick-off of Christian Mitchell’s campaign for 26th District State Representative, an event that doubles as a quasi-fundraiser.
A positive, upbeat vibe emanates throughout the spacious room. People are dispersed around the space, engaging in conversations that collectively resemble the vibrant chatter that fills a coffee shop on a busy day.
Mitchell (Public Policy, A.B. ’08), sporting a black-colored suit over his customary white-collared shirt and a blue Windsor knot tie, appears to be relaxed even though he is the center of attention. Two photographers designated to capture this cheerful occasion follow his every move as he makes his way around the room to welcome, express gratitude, engage in some small talk, and take pictures with the attendants. There are many people to acknowledge but little time to do so because Mitchell is scheduled to make a speech in less than an hour.
Motivation to Run
“It is cool to go to the fundraisers and give speeches and do all those things,” said Mitchell, 25, in his downtown office several days later. “But the most fun that I have is talking to folks at a church or talking to folks at a bus stop because it is a comfortable setting for them where they have the ability to be very, very honest about their concerns.”
While working as a community organizer for the Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (S.O.U.L.), Mitchell heard many of the concerns voiced by the residents of the 26th district. The issues resonated with the 26th District State Representative candidate because he experienced similar problems while growing up in the western suburbs of Maywood and Westchester. During Mitchell’s young life, his family experienced financial difficulties due to a combination of mounting legal and health-care fees stemming from his aunt’s murder conviction (overturned four years later), his mother’s battle with breast cancer, and his grandparents’ ongoing health struggles.
“That collective experience, the suffering that [my family] experienced but also seeing that it was not the exception but in so many ways the rule for so many people—inspired me to want to work for a better 26th District, a better Illinois, a better nation, and a better world,” said Mitchell.
Irreverence is Beneficial
According to Mitchell, the primary issues that need to be resolved are the financial crisis, the lack of faith in government, and the lack of a political system that benefits the everyday person. Each problem plagues not only the 26th District, but also the county, the state, and the federal government. He acknowledges that solving the problems will be a “daunting task,” but he is confident that a solution to each issue can be found.
“I still believe that the government is a place where we can come together to overcome big obstacles to solve big problems,” Mitchell said. “I really do believe that. That’s why I’m running.”
His confidence and assurance can be traced back to his time as an undergraduate. While attending the College, Mitchell learned that “no axiom, idea, or tenet” was “beyond questioning.” The impossible was regarded as possible. The unsolvable was considered solvable.
So, rather than succumb to the intimidating barriers, Mitchell remains steadfast in his belief that sincere, collaborative efforts by delegates will produce solutions. He is certain that the outside-the-box thinking will creatively influence his ideas and enhance his legislative prowess.
“I think that as we look at trying to find innovative solutions to common problems in state government, that approach has served me well and will continue to serve me well as state legislator,” said Mitchell, who helped draft the Urban Weatherization Initiative—“I’d say probably 95% of it, I wrote”—and the House Bill 3597—a bill that will “integrate the fare systems of the Metro, CTA, and Pace”—while working as community organizer for S.O.U.L.
He paused for a second, knocked twice on the desk, and then finished his thought. “If I am fortunate enough to be elected by the people.”
Officially, the Journey Begins
At the Little Black Pearl, the hour before his kick-off speech has elapsed. Flanked on his left by 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns and to his right by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Mitchell stands at a podium stationed at the front of the room. After several political luminaries, including Burns and Preckwinkle, declare their support for him, Mitchell speaks about his background, why he aspires to become a state representative, and what he will strive to accomplish if elected.
As he ends his speech, a round of applause ensues, signifying the end of an event that marks the official beginning of Mitchell’s quest to become the 98th State Representative of the 26th District.
By Chika Okafor, Class of 2011, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of John Keller
Posted on: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 4:45pm