Mary-Pat Hector has been hitting the streets of Stonecrest, Georgia in hopes of becoming a member of its city council. But when she meets with potential voters, they tend to have one concern: how will she be able to juggle her coursework as a sophomore at Spelman College and an elected office?
"I tell them all the time I know a lot of college students that work two jobs and go to school," she told me over the phone. "It's possible. I've seen it happen."
Hector is 19 years old. She's so young, in fact, that her eligibility to run for Post 4 of the newly-formed Stonecrest City Council was challenged by one of her opponents before being upheld earlier this month by the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections. If she wins, she could become one of Georgia's youngest elected female officials.
"To hear others say that 'you know she should wait her turn' or 'she's not experienced'–that's when I believed the campaign went towards a different direction when people actually started to pay attention," Hector explained.
Settling the legal challenge to her candidacy cost her almost a month of prime campaign time before the March election, but Hector says she's not giving up. She's passionate about her platform, which includes promoting safe neighborhoods and decreasing violence ("by the age of 15 I'd also attended more of my friends' funerals than graduations," she said) and better services for groups, like seniors and youth.
Still, she worries that all of the attention put on her age is overshadowing her message.
"All they're hearing is "19-year-old running, and not what the 19-year-old really wants to bring to the table," she said. "They're only seeing me as a 19-year-old and not as a person who can really govern or really take this city to the next level."
Despite her youth, Hector has years of experience working on these issues. She's been on the staff of Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network since she was 13 years old, and is the organization's national youth director. She also founded an anti-violence billboard campaign called "Just Think Twice" and a non-profit called Youth in Action USA (which she founded when she was just 10) in addition to being involved in local advocacy and activism work.
Last year, she joined civil rights leaders and other young black activists at a meeting held by President Obama to discuss reforming the criminal justice and education systems.
The day after the country elected Donald Trump to be president, Hector went to Facebook. "There is a time to sit and a time to STAND," she wrote. "No more sitting! it took 8 years for them to plan. We don't have that long."
That moment, she said, is when she was realized she had to run–now. She filed her campaign papers in January.
"I know just everywhere all across the country young people have really felt discouraged regarding the past presidential election and they're really disengaging from the political process," she said. "But for me, it's like, why run away from the political system when you can truly change it by just getting involved?"
People running for state office in Georgia have to be at least 21, and candidates for Congress have to be at least 25 years old, if not older. So instead, Hector turned to the community where she's lived for 15 years.
"What happens at the federal level is important as well," she said. "But you can really affect change more–I believe–on the local and state level."
By focusing on her local community, she said can work to promote safer neighborhoods and advocate for community centers.
The idea wasn't new to her. She said she always considered going into politics after getting her degrees. But that doesn't mean she saw all of this coming.
When Hector was featured a year ago as one of Pacific Standard's "30 Top Thinkers Under 30," they did ask her.
Her response? "Look out for me in 2044!" As it turned out, her timeline got accelerated—a lot.
"A year ago, if you were to ask me, I wouldn't be able to say that I believed it would have happened this soon," she told me.