INTERVIEW | Getting to Know Courtney Curtis
Tensions are high in Missouri right now. The unarmed shooting of African-American teen Michael Brown by a local police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has cut deep for those who live in your state and nationwide. As an elected official in Missouri, what role are you playing to ensure voices are heard in the wake of this tragic incident?
In the wake of the Ferguson tragedy, I have done things ranging from going to protest, staying out with the protesters to hear their concerns and letting them know that someone was there with them for support and not recognition. I have kept the lines of communication open with a lot of very different groups from local, to state, and federal officials as well as clergy and the protesters. Mostly I’ve listened and reacted while trying to make sure things were put in place to make sure when people are ready to start the healing process that they had somewhere or someone to turn to.
Stakes are high this mid-term election. What are you doing to mobilize Missouri residents to the polls?
We’ve been very active for several weeks trying to ensure that the people know there is an election coming, and who has there best interests at heart. Sadly neither of the candidates is an African American who you’d think would be more sympathetic to fighting for change, but that’s even more of a reason to make sure people get involved because we can’t change things if we arent’. So we’ve done everything from signs, phone calls, events, and robocalls to door knocking. People are really receptive to information these days because so many haven’t been engaged in recent history.
You’ve had a successful career in politics, what inspired you to run for office?
When I moved back to my hometown of Ferguson, there was a murder a few weeks before and after my niece was born, and I can’t remember there being a murder in 23 years of my family living in that area. That was too close to home for me, and since I have no kids or a wife, I figured I’d make things better for my niece, and family while I had all of the time and energy to do so.
What is the key to balancing your professional, philanthropic and social commitments?
I don’t know there is a balance in my life, but because I don’t have many responsibilities it doesn’t effect me too much. I just keep going. I do make sure to have fun whenever I can, but my mind is always on improving the community, and clearly we have great needs so balance can come later, there is work to do today.
What is the biggest mistake young leaders make when pursuing a career in politics?
I’d say the biggest mistake young leaders make is taking what others say as the gospel, some people are accustomed to the old fashioned way of doing things, such as paying your dues, and having someones blessing. I didn’t ask anyone, I knocked on 100 doors a day except on Sundays in 100 degree weather to make a change. I didn’t ask for people to vote for me, I said vote for the community. It worked out, where as some people would have said wait your turn, get married first, get a job etc. Sometimes you just have to do what you feel is right, if it’s meant to be, it will be.
What advice would you give other young professionals who desire to be an elected official?
Advice for young professionals with a desire to be elected may want to do some research, I read for 3 months about campaigning and strategy before I did it. Reconnect with old friends, if you aren’t independently wealthy you may need some financial or shoe leather support and friends come in handy. Make sure you are mentally prepared for what can be trying, make sure your family is ok with it, ultimately really think of the commitment you are making and if you are okay with it forge ahead. Politics is only slightly different from organization work, so having experience to draw on from being a member to leading them all comes in handy. Honestly that’s all the preparation I needed for Ferguson, and it has served me well.
What’s been the best experience of your career thus far (or the most rewarding)?
I’ve had an opportunity to go places I hadn’t previously gone, I’ve been on a call with the President, I’ve toured Turkey with a Congressman from there, I’ve been to China and will be in Hong Kong in December. The people that you can meet, and the places you can go or enough, but knowing that I am having a real impact on the people that I grew up next to takes the cake. At the end of the day, my legacy won’t be where I’ve gone, but who I effected and I’ll see those people everyday and know that I fought for them.
What’s next for you in your career?
Ha, that’s not a question to ask a politician. Political answer, wherever the people will have me. In the meantime I am going to improve my district every day through my nonprofit North County Forever. Policy moves slow, and I’m still childless, and unmarried so my free time will go to moving faster than policy ever could by doing people and action oriented work in the district. My big goal is to make St. Louis the only destination for young people in the midwest, and to beat Chicago in the process. I have a lot of work to do, but anything is possible.
Lastly, give me three words to sum up Courtney Curtis.
Fearless, Passionate, Achiever