The Iron is Hot Right Now.
by Kesha Hamilton, #LwC2021
May 19, 2021
Kesha Hamilton is in our Leading with Conviction 2021 cohort. She is the co-founder and current Co-Chair of Racing 4 Equity, a social justice organization dedicated to promoting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) in organizations, businesses, and city government.
Kesha is also the chair of the Racial Equity Commission for the city of Jackson, Michigan. The commission, created by the Jackson City Council in 2020, is tasked with reviewing city policies and procedures to ensure racial equity is a core element of government.
Kesha’s interest in racial and criminal justice advocacy comes from her past, seeing the effects of substance abuse on marginalized communities. A proud mother of six, Kesha was elected to the Jackson Public School Board in 2020, one of the first two Black women to sit on the Board simultaneously in more than 20 years. She is devoted to ending the school to prison pipeline and promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism in Jackson.
Q: Can you describe your work — but more importantly, how did you get involved in it?
A: If I think about the work I do overall, that theme would be racial justice awareness. It touches on everything that I do, from being an African-American woman, recognizing the differences of race from as early as third grade and even more the results of that racial injustice the older I got and the more I attempted to understand my world.
It is one reason I ran for the local school board, my children attend the local school system. My oldest daughter graduated after four years in high school and didn’t have even one black teacher.
A lack of racial justice in education leads to a lack of representation, leads to a lack of cultural awareness leads to a continuous supply of Black and brown students being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline. A lack of racial justice awareness impacts us – my personal work is to bring awareness so that we can address these things.
Q: What would you say is the most satisfying part of the work you do?
A: When something is accomplished that I’m organizing around, that’s probably the most satisfying.
Q: Like what?
A: Like the Racial Equity Commission. I was really organized around that, galvanized support in the community, asked the community to jump on board with me and they did. They called, they wrote letters, they wrote emails. They showed up and made statements at the council meetings. That was really exciting. And it was very satisfying to have city council pass it unanimously.
What also satisfies me is being in spaces with people like me, and sharing experiences and stories. That’s probably some of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had. Being in spaces where we’re all fighting the same fight and we get each other.
Q: Speaking of shared spaces, what do you hope to get out of Leading with Conviction? What would you like to get out of the leadership development program?
A: I knew I needed some leadership development. I felt like I’m rough around the edges, but I also know that I’m a leader. I want to lead well, but I can’t learn from people who don’t look like me, people who haven’t experienced the things that I’ve experienced. People who don’t have the same fight. I needed to be in spaces with professional Black people who understand me, who understand the fight that I have, who are going in the same direction. And JustLeadership gives me that two in one. Leadership development among people who look like me.
Q: We’re halfway through 2021, so if you had to think about it, what are your hopes for this year? Either for your career or for racial and criminal justice reform?
A: I have to be realistic about what we can accomplish this year. What I’ve been seeing in the news is more discussions around qualified immunity being taken away, I would love to see that take hold.
My goal as a criminal justice advocate is to become a prosecuting attorney. Like I said, I’ve always been interested in criminal justice, I graduated with my associate’s degree in criminal justice, and I’m finishing dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Political Science and Public & Nonprofit Administration. Prosecuting attorneys are the gatekeepers. They are the deciders, they have the most influence on our CJ system and are capable of making the most impactful difference until we abolish the current CJ system. So that’s the direction I’m going. But if we could get qualified immunity taken away this year, then we have a lot more leverage as a people.
That’s what I would love to see in 2021, I think it’s possible. We’ve had a lot of people understanding that we must strike while the iron is hot, and the iron is hot right now.