Lesley McSpadden, 39, is a warrior.
The nation saw her grieve and rage unapologetically when her son, Michael Brown Jr., 19, was gunned down by then Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, on August 9, 2014.
We saw McSpadden refuse to be silenced, refuse to be moved, when the anticipated not-guilty verdict came in. And we cheered her on when she went back to school and earned her high school diploma in 2017.
Now, McSpadden is on the ballot today in Ferguson, running for the 3rd Ward city council seat that, if she wins, will give her oversight over the same corrupt police department that killed her beloved son.
“Great reforms need to come to Ferguson, and I don’t want my children to grow up in a city where what happened to Michael can happen to anyone else,” McSpadden wrote in an op-Ed at The Root. “We need to rebuild the entire system from the inside out. The only way that can be done is by having people, like me, who have been harmed by the system working inside it to make the right change that is needed.”
If elected, police accountability, mental health and wellness, and income
The road to the city chamber has not been smooth for McSpadden, who faces incumbent Keith Kallstrom and Ferguson protester Fran Griffin, who has been active in community organizing and sits on several local committees. In that same vein, McSpadden has faced criticism from some community members, such as Latosha Brown, president of the Southeast Ferguson Neighborhood Association, who charges that McSpadden has “largely been running for office from afar.”
“The 3rd Ward needs somebody who’s going to mingle with the people,” Brown said in an Huffington Post interview. “You can’t make change from a distance. If you don’t know what your constituents are going through, if you’re not there to hear what they’re saying, how can you lead these people and make decisions for these people?”
McSpadden begs to differ. In the following Q&A, she talks about how the heart-wrenching, violent theft of her son’s life has compelled her to create new pathways to freedom, and why she not only has every right, but is best qualified, to run for office in the community she loves so much.
ESSENCE: How did Mike’s death compel you to enter politics?
McSpadden: Me witnessing the unjust criminal system, me actually as his mother being the person affected the most outside of himself, reflecting over the last five years and looking back at the traumatization of what happened to not only me but a small community, I want to do some right in a place that has been done so wrong. And it took me a while to figure out how I can be most helpful in returning to some light after being in so much pain. I’m wanting to save a life, save another child’s future which means helping the children, helping the mothers and helping the families.
ESSENCE: How has the community responded to your run?
McSpadden: I would say as far as the response I have gotten, they are rooting for me, wanting to try something new. Some of them connect with me because they have lost a child and they know what it is to grieve for a child and how they have to bury a child and not a child burying you. The comments I am getting are telling me that I am able to relate to the community because I come from some of the same conditions that many of them are living in.
ESSENCE: What do you say to the criticism that you haven’t really been in Ferguson in the last few years?
McSpadden: You can’t be criticized when you are doing everything right. And what I have done is move to this area specifically to run for Ferguson city council. I know I’m not a traditional candidate – I think that makes my voice even more qualified. I know what it feels like to feel unheard and ignored. No, I have not lived in this area for a long time, but when I was affected by what happened in this area with the death of my son, I would like for critics to say to themselves ten times, “I had to bury my son.” I have shown up everyday after that to be an advocate for our children, our families, and our communities. Now, I’m asking the citizens of Ward 3 to allow me to do the work full time and if you accept me, I will do that. It’s only going on 5 years that I buried my baby. Give me some credit for trying to make things right and standing in the gap, because my son and so many others’ sons were the ultimate sacrifice. I think that criticizers are those that stand in the way of those who want to do what’s right and we know there are people around Ferguson that fit that bill.
ESSENCE: What do you hope to accomplish if you win? What do you want your legacy to be?
McSpadden: As far as legacy, I’m just getting started. You normally talk about legacy when you feel like you have a lot to do. I want my children to know that I can persevere that I am strong and that Michael Brown’s mother was not going to let him die in vain and I’m going to be the one that defines his legacy.
When I win, I want to restore hope, peace and see this community begin its healing.
If elected, McSpadden, author of the book, Tell the Truth Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown; founder and president of The Michael Orlandus Darrion Brown We Love Our Sons and Daughters Foundation; and an organizer for the Rainbow Of Mothers, a signature program of the Michael O.D. Brown Foundation, would be the second Mother of the Movement to win an elected office.
Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, the 17-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., teen who was murdered by racist Michael Dunn for playing his music too loudly at a gas station, is now a member of the United States House of Represenatives, representing Georgia’s 6th district.
To learn more about McSpadden’s campaign, visit her campaign website.