A Common Sense Exclusive Interview with District 15 Candidate Chivona Newsome
Mia Penner, Grade 10, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Amidst a political landscape once populated by the old guard, where experience has always seemed to be valued over vision, some American voters are turning their focus towards a crop of younger politicians who are hopeful about blazing a new trail. When José E. Serrano, the incumbent congressman from New York’s 15th Congressional District, announced his plans for retirement, Democrat Chivona Newsome, a passionate political newcomer, decided to run for his seat in hopes of bringing systematic change to the South Bronx.
Ms. Newsome, 35, has devoted her adult life to combating financial injustice, helping families affected by police brutality, promoting educational opportunities for marginalized groups, and furthering LGBTQ and women’s rights. Her progressive platform reflects her desire to give a voice to the disenfranchised and promote economic, social, and environmental justice. “No matter race, color, or creed, my fight has always been for marginalized people and people who have been systematically oppressed,” Ms. Newsome said.
Born and raised in District 15, Ms. Newsome attributes her success to the experience of growing up in the South Bronx. “This community and this district have made me into the powerful, strong woman I am today,” she said. “The best way I knew to give back to my neighbors was to throw my hat into this race.”
A passion for activism has always been in Ms. Newsome’s blood. Her parents were active in the Civil Rights Movement and met in 1969 at a protest demanding that black history be taught by black teachers.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, Ms. Newsome first became politically involved in the 2004 presidential race between George Bush and John Kerry. As a freshman in college, she helped register voters in her neighborhood and canvassed in the swing state of Pennsylvania. “I was watching the news and seeing everything that was happening and I just knew that I had to take a stand for democracy,” she said.
In 2008, Ms. Newsome began grassroots fundraising for then Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and she was later asked to be part of his inaugural committee.
After co-founding Black Lives Matter Greater New York, Ms. Newsome worked as a financial advisor at New York Life. She left her job in 2017, however, to help fight financial injustice on the ground. She officially joined the race for the U.S. House of Representatives in August.
While on the campaign trail, Ms. Newsome has tried to align herself with the struggles facing her constituents. She wants to make educational opportunities more accessible and affordable in order to combat the high dropout rates in District 15. She also hopes to bring greater financial security to the district by promoting universal basic income and Medicare for all. “It’s all about listening to my community and fighting for the issues that affect my constituents,” she said.
Ms. Newsome faces a host of established Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination. Because she has never held office before and has little name recognition, her campaign is considered to be a long-shot. But her candidacy represents a shift in the Democratic Party towards frustrated young politicians with little political experience hoping to bring change to marginalized communities. Referred to by some as the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez effect, the phenomena has gained traction throughout the country.
Regardless of the outcome, Ms. Newsome hopes her campaign will inspire young people, especially high school students, to take action. “Even if you’re too young to vote or register voters, you can still support a candidate by handing out flyers or raising awareness,” she said. “There is no age requirement to walk into a campaign office and say, ‘Hey, I want to help out.’”