Many, if not most, would consider Lesley McSpadden a woman of extraordinary strength.
Nearly five years after losing her son Michael Brown to police brutality, she embarks on a campaign for City Council in Ferguson, MO’s third ward. It’s a strenuous run that has forced her to confront not only her own healing but that of an entire community.
However, while many rally behind her, Ms. McSpadden does not view her newfound political journey as an extension of her bravery, but one of her purpose.
“I thank them for their compliments and I really appreciate it,” she tells VIBE, acknowledging the commendatory comments that supporters have said about her, “but I don’t think that I will ever feel that I’ve done enough. What I’m doing now is living the purpose of what I feel that God has planned for me.”
McSpadden initially announced her candidacy in Aug. 2018. Since then, she sparked a grassroots campaign, canvassing local spaces and taking the time to meet with residents to learn firsthand what concerns they had and the proper route to their solutions.
She admits that a multitude of factors led to this moment, but one, in particular, gave her the fuel to see it through. “This is personal for me,” she says. “When I lost my son nearly five years ago, man, every day I’ve just been learning and reflecting on how I can be most useful. And I have watched events in Ferguson unfold during the time and leading up until where I am today, and it looks like Ferguson is taking a step backward.”
She cites the city’s handling of her son’s murder case and the divide it wedged within the community as evidence that the city needed new leadership (unrest ignited after a grand jury decided not to indict Brown’s shooter, Darren Wilson).
Being Michael Brown’s mother instantly catapulted her into the mainstream limelight. Her name and image suddenly became a staple on news broadcasts across the country, branding her one of the “Mothers of the Movement,” a title given to the women whose children have been murdered by police. McSpadden will always be Michael’s mother, but with her newfound fame, she wants to use her platform to assist other black and brown families in Ferguson.
“When I lost my son nearly five years ago, man, every day I’ve just been learning and reflecting on how I can be most useful.”
A new political climate has erupted in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s 2017 presidential inauguration. A resume stacked with formal, political positions isn’t required. While that route to office has frequently been criticized, McSpadden believes her experience manifests in a different way.
“You have to relate to the people, and I’ve been doing absolutely nothing but being an advocate for black and brown children since this has happened to my son,” she asserts. “I’m not your traditional politician, but I think that makes me even more qualified because, as I’ve said it before, I have lived and persevered through the fire and have been at ground zero with these folks who have been impacted, traumatized and are still suffering from PTSD. If you can’t come down to eye level with these people, people like me, and talk to us about what we need to move forward, then we will never get anywhere.”
Being eye level with Ferguson has allowed her to identify three essential issues to tackle: policing, economic equality, and health care. “When I speak about economic equality, I talk about there being two Fergusons instead of one,” she says. “On what they call Old Town Ferguson, it’s very prestigious, clean, and you have really big houses. It just looks phenomenal. And then you have the North side of Ferguson, and it’s full of subsidized housing. It has no amenities, no green spaces for the children, and it looks as if no one cares about those folks and their wellbeing. What I would like to do is bridge those two.” McSpadden plans to work with developers to “improve the infrastructure” so that all regions of Ferguson are mirrors of one another.
“I want to help to bring back great light to St. Louis.”
At the forefront of change, McSpadden continues to be a voice for black lives in Missouri through a new movement spreading nationwide. The country has seen an impressive increase in black women who hold political seats. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 20 black women are now seated in Congress. And according to the crowdsourced Black Women in Politics database, an estimated 468 black women ran for political office in 2018 (Juliana Stratton became the first black woman elected to serve as Lieutenant Governor in Illinois; Melanie Levesque is the first African-American elected to the New Hampshire State Senate).
It’s undoubtedly a pivotal moment in history, and to be a part of it, McSpadden says, is empowering. “We as women endure so much, and we’ve seen a dramatic change over the last couple of years, women just standing 10 toes down to speak their truth. How could that not empower another woman?” she asserts. “I’m so inspired by many of my black sisters who have stood up and stepped out on stage to say, ‘hey, I want to be heard, and my voice matters.’ I couldn’t thank them enough. And they’re not just black women; they’re women in general.”
The third ward city council election kicks off on Tuesday (April 2). As for the future, McSpadden foresees an extensive journey in the political scene. Her mission is to install legislation in Missouri that will protect black and brown people from basic injustices such as police brutality (she’s already participated in enacting a 13-page bill that was presented on the federal level). “I want to help to bring back great light to St. Louis. I’ve been here for my entire 40 years. I’m raising other children here. And I do have another son. And in three years, he will be 18. I would hate for us to revert back to a moment like Aug. 9 when I lost my son,” McSpadden says.
“This is coming directly from my heart, and it took me years to look at some really painful things and to make a decision to do this. I want the people of Ferguson third ward to know that I’m only here to help. If I can share this platform that I’ve been given in any kind of way, I want to share it with them.”