The Black Kentuckian Who Tried to Upset Mitch McConnell - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Charles Booker barely lost his Democratic primary in June, but his political future is still bright.
SourceBryan Woolston/AP

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Charles Booker barely lost his Democratic primary in June, but his political future is very much bright.

By Nick Fouriezos

A Kentucky representative and former U.S. Senate candidate who lost in the Democratic primary in June, Charles Booker sat for a revealing interview with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation.

On his roots

Booker: I’m from the West End of Louisville. As I mentioned, this city is very segregated, but there’s a very powerful through line. There is a strong sense of family in our city. That is certainly true in the West End. Now I live in what has for years been the poorest zip code in Kentucky. It’s a powerful point to raise because when people outside look at Kentucky, you see the poverty, you see the struggles, but you very rarely see communities like mine in the ‘hood. People tend to define Kentucky in a certain way that doesn’t really include someone that looks like me. This is an important point. I come from a very big family. I’m one of at least 71 grandkids. I’ve stopped counting. We have a small town of a family, so I’m not exaggerating there. It taught me community.

Watson: You come from the home of Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay … the original fighter. Talk to me about that idea of losing and coming back. Because, Charles, even though you say it with a smile, it’s hard for most of us.

Booker: What you said is so true. It does hurt. It’s crushing. I just ran for the U.S. Senate, which I know we’ll talk about. A lot of the lessons from that carried me into this race where I’m challenging again another longtime incumbent.

If you’re connected to your why and you know what you’re fighting for, it’s bigger than any one race. The pain just helps to strengthen you. When you go through a campaign, the people you connect with, the things you learn, you grow. There’s no way I can say I actually lost because it helped to sharpen me. It helped to open my eyes to so much possibility. It inspired me to keep pushing.

I don’t want to do this for politics. I didn’t run because I wanted a title. I want things to change. They haven’t changed, in my opinion, the way we need, so I’m going to keep fighting for it. Whether I’m in elected office, whether I’m picking up trash on the street, whether I’m marching in the streets, I’m going to show up and do everything I can for my community.

On challenging Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell

Watson: I say Mitch McConnell, you say what?

Booker: Evil. You want more? Terrible. I mean, he is everything that’s wrong with politics. He’s everything that’s wrong with Kentucky. He defines it. He profits off of it. He laughs to the bank while we die. And beating him is not just about getting rid of him. I don’t care about him personally, I hope he fairs well in his life. We need a lot of progress in Kentucky and we don’t need politicians that exploit division, that weaponize hate. So, got to go.

On taking chances

Watson: One of the things we’ve been talking a lot about on the show is how people dream fearlessly. It’s not always easy, but it’s important not only to dream fearlessly, but to bring these dreams alive. What have you learned about dreaming fearlessly?

Booker: Oh, it’s everything. You got to have the courage to lean into your convictions. And you have to dream. You have to continue to see the vision forward, and find those “whys” that allow you to keep believing when things get tough.

I think change happens when we believe enough to push enough. And that’s really what my candidacy was all about. I hope I helped to tell that story. There is no fear in me. And when folks ask, “Well, how could you go against Mitch McConnell?”

Well, challenging him was nothing like having my little cousins murdered. It’s nothing like seeing my mom go without, and us sitting on the bus stop because we don’t have transportation and seeing her cry, because she couldn’t afford to take care of her son.

Going against Mitch McConnell pales in comparison to the real struggles we face. So there is no fear.

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