“It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” – Barbara Jordan
The first interview of our inaugural series, The Thinker’s Tank, HBCU Politics seeks to interview the brilliant minds that have been, are, and will be shaping the future of politics and policy that impact African America and beyond. Our editor-in-chief was first introduced to Ms. Beasley through her social media post on Instagram entitled, ” What Is A Public Service Commissioner?” where she explains the acute importance of the local politics and offices that intimately impact our lives on a daily basis. We sat down with her to learn more about how she sees and is shaping the political world from her foxhole in Atlanta, Georgia.
It is a far more common occurrence than a lot of people know, but still worth noting. Your undergraduate matriculation was at a PWI, but you chose to attend graduate school at an HBCU. What led you to choose an HBCU for graduate school and what led you to Clark Atlanta in particular? Clark Atlanta just kind of fell in my lap. I finished at Kennesaw State University and my mom was working at CAU in financial aid. I was not sure what I wanted to do next. She told me I should just come to just come to CAU and get a master’s while I figure out what to do next. She also guided me to the Public Administration Program because it is a practical degree. At first, I was hesitant because I wanted more time to decide what school to go to. I graduated from KSU in December of 2015, and I started the program at CAU in January of 2016. What solidified the decision was that I had my tuition paid for both because my mom worked there and because my GPA from my undergrad career. Free tuition and a stipend were definitely sealed the deal. I also looked at this as “it’s meant to be” because everything fell in place so quickly.
Who or what would you say has been among the most influential in developing your political intellect? My father began to cultivate my political curiosity very early by talking about some of his experiences as a kid of 13 growing up on the south side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. When I found out he was in the Vietnam War and was drafted to go, I definitely had even more questions. I kept going with the “whys”. At Kennesaw State it was Dr. Regina Bradley, Dr. Jesse Benjamin, Dr. Griselda Thomas. When I got to CAU in the Public Administration Program, Dr. Henry Elonge and Dr. Sabrina Riles. Dr. Elonge is the reason why I decided to continue on to the PhD program. He mentioned to me that I have all the support already here both financially and at home. I immersed myself in Political Science when I got accepted and the Department welcomed me with open arms. The Black experience through a political science lens constantly keeps me intrigued. My professors in the department pour so much into me. My cohort has become my family and they also inform my perspective, especially when thinking through issues prevalent on the continent.
Has COVID changed anything in politics that you believe is now a permanent part of the political landscape? I think it has made people really see how important state and local politics are. We got to see the all the variations of local and state governing in real time. I think people are paying more attention to elections and elected officials who traditionally did not get a lot of “attention”. I think we also get to see the important role that Black women play and that we are inherently political. From protest to policy making, Black women push western notions of advocacy (as we always have) and agency. I think COVID has highlighted this even more.
Local politics is a real passion of yours in getting people to understand its very intimate impact on their day to day lives. Money and media seem like the obvious reason, but what are your views on why or what holds back a larger engagement of citizens in their local and state politics? I think it starts with how we are introduced to the governing structure. We get a civics class as an elective in high school, maybe. We turn 18 and are told to vote and that’s it. For Black people, its “vote because your ancestors died for you to do it”. A lot of Black people did die for the right to vote but they also understood citizenship as a process and that ultimately, we do it so that we can have a say in what goes on to our communities. I think that approach is better because Black people already know the violence that went along with participation and it does not resonate with them. How much more powerful is the narrative of controlling your community rather than imagining the horror people went through to participate. Remembering the violence is important, but people need to know their participation or lack thereof has an impact.
African American politics tends to be very concentrated in grassroots but seems to be lacking in the more institutional areas like lobbying and think tanks. What do you believe is necessary to mature African America’s political infrastructure? We have both institutions and think tanks. We need funding. We need for Black people with money to fund these initiatives that have been up operating long enough to have roots and trust in communities. Not for them to go off and start their own thing for a tax credit and a photo opportunity. We have to stop reinventing the wheel and pull our resources together for the greater good of our community.
You spoke with a lot of passion about the coming privatization of water and the conflicts that it will inevitably cause. How would you like to see African American communities and institutions preparing politically for that coming reality? We need to be paying close attention to the Public Service Commissioner’s office on the state level. Atlanta, in particular has the #5 worst water infrastructure in the country. Administrations are kicking this down the road and because we can’t see the impact now, it’s out of sight out of mind. We have to raise the issue on the county and city levels as well. Just like any other political issue, we have to organize around the issue and target the correct office. I wouldn’t recommend hoarding water or anything like that because, water bills are expensive as is. We need to push for city council members and state legislatures to tax these big corporations in the state for the pollutants they put in the air and water and use this money to improve infrastructure.
Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris are currently the most well-known HBCU women in politics. Is there a rising star(s) whose name we should be watching out for in your opinion? I cannot identify one in particular. I will say that with the emergence of both of the women you mentioned, Black women will certainly be more confident in running for local, state and federal offices. We saw that in the 2020 election cycle.
Your five weeks with the Women Global Empowerment Initiative in Morocco seemed to be an impactful experience. How do you believe international experience impacted your view on policy and politics here in the states? Morocco is an interesting place. The history of all of North Africa is intriguing, especially how race has been constructed and used throughout the region. My time in Morocco further solidified that Black people are not a monolith. While sometimes it is frustrating that we cannot come together on what I see as common issues, it also made me understand these differences are what make Black people resilient. Every Black person needs to travel and see how other Black people conceptualize and live in their Blackness. Going abroad shows me that it varies and again that’s what makes us beautiful. I have plans to go to Ghana this summer for 6 weeks to study and I am very excited to see the variations between Morocco and Ghana politically, culturally and socially.
And in closing, what has been your favorite HBCU memory so far? Hands down homecoming. AUC homecoming is always epic. I’m sad we missed it last year. Hopefully, we’re back at it again in 2021.
Jayme Beasley grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and received her primary education in the Dekalb County public school system. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in African and African Diaspora Studies and Health Promotions from Kennesaw State University. After graduating from KSU, she continued her studies at Clark Atlanta University. While working on a Master of Public Administration degree at CAU, she interned with the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Human Rights and Social Justice. While interning, she studied food security in the Historic West End Community in Atlanta, GA.
Jayme is currently a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Clark Atlanta University with specializations in Women in Politics, American Government, Urban Politics, and Comparative Politics. Currently, her research is focused on the relationship between non-governmental organizations, private entities, and state and local governments in providing natural resource management. Jayme plans to pursue a career in the academy and continue building her political consulting firm – SaJa Political Solutions, LLC
You can find Ms. Beasley on social media:
INSTAGRAM: @politicsorpolitiking and @_patr0na