Jamaal Bowman: From ‘Street Kid’ to the Halls of Power - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Jamaal Bowman
SourceStephanie Keith/Getty

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because this progressive newcomer upset a 16-term incumbent.

By Nick Fouriezos

Winning a seat in the U.S. Congress is challenging. But winning one against a 30-year incumbent as a complete political newcomer? That’s a whole other level of difficulty. And yet, that’s exactly what Jamaal Bowman, 44, did in mid-July, tripling voter turnout — particularly among young voters and voters of color — to upend his more moderate opponent Eliot Engel and become the next ascendant New York progressive headed to Washington.

Bowman’s rise is indicative of the changing faces of American politics, going from a self-described angry Black kid from the East Harlem housing projects to founder and principal of the restorative-justice-focused Cornerstone Academy for Social Action middle school. In Congress, he plans to legislate with an “anti-poverty and anti-racist” platform, including criminal justice reform, education, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. And, as he reveals on The Carlos Watson Show, the influences that got him here were ’90s hip-hop idols such as Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy.

“Not only was I the street kid growing up, I was the kid who didn’t think this country cared about me,” Bowman says. “To go from that to working in education and then running for office and winning, that I think is a lesson in and of itself for so many people who have lost faith in the system.”

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