In a newly formed municipality like the City of Stonecrest in Dekalb County, Ga., citizens are looking for strong, reliable, experienced leaders to help land the city on a path to success in its humble beginnings. The race is on to elect Stonecrest’s first City Council board and this local 19-year-old activist thinks she has the chops to fill one of those seats.
Meet Mary-Pat Hector, a budding author, speaker and community advocate who has already dedicated most of her life to bettering communities across the nation. For a teenager, Hector has quite the résumé, touting a key leadership position as national youth director for the National Action Network, founding the Just Think Twice campaign against gun violence and even doing activist work alongside Rev. Al Sharpton.
Some would question the motives of a teen entering the political arena, but Hector said it was the lack of engagement among people her age during the nail-biting presidential election that inspired her to run for councilwoman. She also said she noticed the absence of young people in the political arena and sought to do something about it.
“I felt that there needed to be diversity in both national and local politics [in terms of] age, race and gender,” Hector told Atlanta Black Star. “… Instead of saying I’m gonna disengage like some of my peers [or] say I don’t believe in the system, I know for a fact that I don’t believe in the people within the political system. That’s what really prompted me to run.”
So far, it hasn’t been all smiles and sunshine for the young community activist. Hector said people haven’t been as open-minded as she’d thought about possibly electing a girl her age to sit on the City Council. Her age, she believes, has put her at somewhat of a disadvantage because people equate her youth to inexperience. But, Hector maintains that she has just as much political knowledge to run the race with seasoned veterans.
Organizing alongside mayors, political activists and community leaders to advocate for Black achievement and eradicating social ills in nonwhite communities is just some of the work the Lithonia, Ga., native feels has equipped her with the necessary skills to serve on Stonecrest’s City Council. Her work as national youth director of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Sharpton in 1991, she said, also has prepared her to serve the best interests of the residents of Stoncrest. Hector has held that leadership position since she was 13 years old.
“I’ve learned how to work with different people who may not have the same beliefs as me,” she explained. “I’ve learned how to navigate myself in a room of many powerful people. I’ve worked with large budgets and I believe [my work with the NAN] has prepared me in many, many ways.”
Reinforcing the need for diversity in the political arena, Hector went on to say that she’d like to see more average, everyday people like herself running for public office, adding that those positions shouldn’t only be filled by people with long titles or those who attended prestigious schools. She said everyday people from local communities and neighborhoods tend to better understand what’s going on there and are, therefore, more dedicated to “ensuring the voice of the community is heard.”
One of the major pegs of Hector’s platform is reducing violence in Stonecrest and providing residents a safer environment. Most would look to the police to handle all matters concerning public safety, but rising tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve is a hurdle that needs to be cleared before mutual trust is restored.
When asked whether local police would play a role in her goal to keep residents safe, Hector noted that Stonecrest, which was added to the metro-Atlanta map last year as a new community boasting close to 50,000 residents, was still just a part-time city, not a full-time one. Issues concerning community policing wouldn’t be left up to the City Council but to the county instead.
Because her platform focuses on crime prevention methods to keep neighborhoods safe and secure, Hector says she doesn’t believe stricter policing is the answer to combating violence. After losing a number of friends to senseless violence while growing up in a community that’s 95 percent Black, the potential councilwoman says it’s time to focus on implementing local programs that’ll help keep teens off the street.
“My best friend was walking home from school late and she ended up getting killed,” Hector told ABS. “Not because she was doing anything wrong, not because she was involved in any gang activity, but just because she was strolling and had nothing to do.”
“These were all good kids. We all came from the same community, but the thing is, there was literally nothing for them to do,” she added.
Hector also pointed to the city’s underfunded parks, libraries and recreation centers that go unused by local residents. Through her work, she said she hopes to not only preserve these areas but turn them into incubators and innovation labs were residents, especially kids her age, can “learn the things they wanna learn about … play basketball and just be teens.”
Moreover, Hector wants to bring STEM and other tech businesses into the budding city to help fund such programs for teens and the elderly. Not only would these businesses help boost the city’s economic development, but they also would improve education, create job opportunities and reinforce Hector’s proposed crime prevention methods. She maintains that attracting STEM companies to Stonecrest would, in turn, draw people of all races and backgrounds to visit or even reside in the thriving new city.
“There needs to be diversity in order to sustain our community … assuring that everyone in the community is being taken care of and everyone is being represented,” the young activist said of Stonecrest, which she’s dubbed the “Silicon Valley of the South.” “Because as of now, that’s not happening.”
Above all, Hector said transparency is needed, especially in a new city like Stonecrest, and she feels she’s the candidate to provide that. Time is winding down to win over community residents, who will head to the polls to elect five council members come March 21. A seasoned 19-year-old just might be standing among them.
“I think that it’s very important for the citizens to have someone who’s not afraid to speak for them and voice the opinions of those in the community,” Hector said, “and I think that’s something that the people of Stonecrest can find in me.”