This story was originally published on February 1, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.
"It was my husband at the end of the day who caused me to pause. He said, 'Just step back for a minute. I just want you to listen to him. This is your candidate. This is how you like to roll.'"
What is it about his ideas that makes him the right candidate for you?
"I got a phone call from the Senator last year. He explained to me why he was running, what motivates and drives him, and how he believes this is a country that can allow all people to live a good life. He fundamentally believes that the working poor and middle class have gotten a raw deal in this country and that the United States of America, the wealthiest nation on the face of the Earth, can do better, should do better, and that working poor and middle class people deserve better. And that spoke to me, give my background and my journey."
My mother died on the system of welfare. She didn't even have a life insurance policy
"Being the oldest of seven children and having a mother who had to raise all of us on her own for most of her life. My parents got married very young, but they divorced early. My mother died at the age of 42. As Langston Hughes describes it, 'What happens to a dream deferred?' I was 22 years old and my baby sister was 12. My mother had an aneurysm, had a burst in her brain, went into a coma and died. My mother died on the system of welfare. She didn't even have a life insurance policy. "I started having a flashback [to that time when] I thought about the types of policies Sen. Sanders is fighting for. The impact that would have had on my mother and our quality of life. As a first generation college graduate, [it resonates with me] when he stands up and says, 'It’s not a radical idea that no child in this country should have to be saddled by debt when they walk across the stage with their degrees,' and that he wants public education to be free. "The most important moment for me — in terms of how that cycle of poverty can be broken — was when my son walked across the stage after earning his degree. I started thinking about my sisters and brothers who suffered, not because my mother didn’t try; but because everyone doesn't run the race at the same pace in this country. We don’t mind having a safety net for the wealthy, but we frown upon having a safety net for poor folks. So when I juxtaposed my journey [with what other people have gone through], there was no doubt in my mind that the person I should be supporting to become the next President of the United States of America is Sen. Bernie Sanders."
What must Sen. Sanders do to get more Black support? As you know very well, he trails Hillary Clinton with those voters.
"There is no doubt he has more ground to cover. He has to introduce himself to people, particularly people of color. And to break that down even more, the African-American community. But he is talking to the African-American community like he would to any other constituency he is trying to win over. One thing I can say about Sen. Sanders is that he has not and will not take the African-American vote for granted. He is under no illusion. He knows he has to work hard to earn the vote. That’s what’s important to me and it should be important to other African-Americans. "We as an ethnic group should never allow ourselves to have our vote taken for granted by anybody. We don’t owe anybody anything. As the voters, we need the politicians to prove to us why we should hire them. What has really gotten to me, not only as a public servant but also as a college professor of African-American history, is that we have pundits and talking heads assuming — and I understand why they are assuming — that Black folks are going to vote one way. No ethnic group should ever want their vote to be taken for granted, but we’re the only ethnic group people are already predicting where we are going and that is not good for us as a people. No one owns our vote. They should earn our vote."
No one owns our vote. They should earn our vote.
"Oh, my god yes. I’ve had white Hillary supporters saying to me that I betrayed the Clintons and saying I’m not going to have a future in politics. I mean, they marked me for life, and I’m sitting back thinking: The Clintons never helped me to do a thing in my life, and all of a sudden they control my destiny? That was very condescending to me. "I had a white woman here in Ohio who supported my Secretary of State run in 2014. I’ll never forget this. I was at a Planned Parenthood lecture a couple of months ago and she came up to me and said how disappointed she was in me. Very condescending. And I let her know that I really didn't care about her disappointment and I’m not on the plantation. That’s exactly what I told her.
How important do you think it is to for Black women to turn out and vote this election season?
"Black women are vitally important. We were the largest voting bloc in 2012, 29 million strong. Period. When Black women vote, we bring our families with us. It is vitally important to speak to the issues and the needs of Black women. I want to see my sisters take control and embrace their political powers. From the presidency down to the school board. "I always go back to the senator’s policies: Increase the minimum wage and address the five types of violence against Black people. Black women have children. Black women have husbands. Black women have brothers. Black women have people that they love. So if the system is unjust, then it impacts Black women. And black women are being knocked over the head, too. And when you talk about 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, we’re talking about Black moms, Black sisters, Black caregivers. "We have to own our positioning. We can't wait for someone to tell us can own it; we have to flat out own our position in the universe."
I’ve had white Hillary supporters saying to me that I betrayed the Clintons and saying I’m not going to have a future in politics.
"I would say that people should cast their ballots for Sen. Bernie Sanders, because he has heart-and-soul agreement in terms of knowing this world is a much better place when all people are lifted. His plan to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour shows that. As does his righteous indignation about the corrupt system of government that we have now that’s controlled by the few billionaires, so that the voices of everyday people are drowned out by dollars. "The fact that he is going to take it to Wall Street means he has heart-and-soul agreement. Universal health-care as a right. Free public college and university for all children in the United States of America. He embodies the spirit of Mother Teresa, Mother Jones, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Daisy Bates, Fannie Lou Hamer, and countless other women and men I can name who were freedom fighters who fought against the status quo. So, if you want yourself and your children to have an opportunity in this country, then Sen. Bernie Sanders is the leader for our time."
Terrell Jermaine Starr is a New York City-based reporter who covers Russian and U.S. politics, women's issues and race. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.