Memphis Gen Z leader Brandon Washington says youth are ready to lead if given a chance

Being young doesn’t mean you can’t make waves! It just means you have to jump harder into the ocean!

These last few unforgettable months took me, a 20-year-old, first-generation college student, from enjoying his first summer break to appearing on the ballot for a Memphis City Council seat. This was an opportunity to become the first Black person elected to represent Super District 9.

Throughout the campaign, I heard from several people that I should focus on living my life as a young person. However, as I told them and other young people who look up to me, young people can change the world and enjoy it simultaneously.

After changing the foster care system in Washington, D.C., and Nashville, I returned home in the summer of 2023 to prepare for my birthday trip. Around this time, I was asked to consider running for elected office.

I decided to put my name on the ballot because, instead of hoping our elected officials would hear us, I wanted to be the elected official others count on to listen and act.

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I may not have had campaign cash, but I was present in the community

At first, it was hard to imagine myself running for office. It wasn’t until the deadline had passed to withdraw my name that I truly realized that I had a chance to show voters why Memphis matters!

Rhodes College sophomore Brandon Washington is running for city council. Brandon explains his motivations and goals for being a city councilman with journalist John Klyce on July 28, 2023 in a conference room at Youth Villages in Bartlett, TN.
Rhodes College sophomore Brandon Washington is running for city council. Brandon explains his motivations and goals for being a city councilman with journalist John Klyce on July 28, 2023 in a conference room at Youth Villages in Bartlett, TN.

Before I ran for office, I didn’t fully understand how big of a role money played in campaigning. With this in mind, my original four-member team decided it would be better to attend events held by established organizations to engage with voters. Although my opponent, J. Ford Canale, outraised me during this election, he never attended any of the community events I attended.

My favorite part of the campaign is definitely the light I saw flicker in the eyes of Memphians when I informed them that I was 20 years old and a former foster youth from Orange Mound. That spark kept me and my team pushing over the finish line. To me, that spark symbolized the hope that our city could get better and that they saw their son, their daughter, and their young family members in me and knew that they could accomplish their dreams, too.

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By far, the biggest hurdle that Team Brandon encountered during the campaign was getting the support of organizations that had the resources to help us reach our target number of 27,000 voters, just 10,000 more than we received in the end. Many organizations felt my political and policy experience was limited and were slow to back me publicly.  Thanks to the pressure applied by my supporters and with the advocacy of internal folks who are a part of those organizations, a couple of those groups realized that I did have experience in enacting change and issued their support.

I want my candidacy to be a beacon of hope for Memphis

Overall, I am glad that I ran, even if the outcome wasn’t what I had intended. I forced the incumbent in my race to get out and interact with his voters. I received more than 16,000 votes (38% of the total votes), becoming the first Black person to obtain that amount of votes in the historically white Super District 9. In the six races that had an incumbent being challenged, I received more votes than all of the other 11 challengers and more than four of the incumbents. I also received more votes than nearly three quarters of the Memphis mayoral candidates. I did all of that with 13 members of Team Brandon with a fundraising amount of $5,665-- about 3% of what my opponent raised.

I want my race to be a beacon of hope for all Memphians! I want our younger generation to see others with similar backgrounds working to achieve their dreams and realize they can take the world by storm with their gifts. I hope my campaign shows the older generations that the young people do care about what happens to our city and our world; we just need the resources and support to thrive.

I hope that the winner of my race and the winners of the election take notice that our communities need bold leaders and that young people are watching and willing to take the helm. Our community is desperate to see officials keep their promises that got them elected!

Brandon Washington
Brandon Washington

I look forward to re-entering the campaign trail in with more advocacy and fundraising support to become the young leader our community needs to bring bold and innovative change.

Brandon Washington is a sophomore at Rhodes College in Memphis and a former foster youth who ran unsuccessfully this year for Memphis City Council, winning nearly 40% of the votes in his race to represent Super District 9.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis politics: Gen Z leader says young people are ready to lead