By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
As a young girl growing up in Bronzeville, Jay Travis heard stories of her grandmother standing up to slumlords in the 1950s and ’60s and witnessed her father’s involvement with several civil rights movements. She said seeing the positive effects of people who used their own power to stand up for themselves is what inspired her work as an organizer. Travis now wants to lead at the state level and is running for state representative in the 26th District, a position that is currently held by an incumbent with strong political backing.
Travis will run in a primary race in March against incumbent Christian Mitchell, who has major political backers, such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Should Travis win the primary, she would run against Republican candidate Jacob Hakalir in November.
Travis said although Mitchell has the support of the political establishment, she’s confident that her 20-year track record of working with communities, crafting policies and defending families will garner a strong network of supporters.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates voted unanimously to endorse Jay Travis in her run.
“It is exciting and an honor to have the support of a strong prominent labor union such as the CTU,” Travis said. “I am also excited about gaining the support of voters in the district. It’s a great feeling to have a good coalition forming behind me.”
Her participation in the overnight campout against school closings, advocating against Senate Bill 1 to reduce the amount of automatic increases to public worker pensions and her long-time support of an elected school board in Chicago are just a few of the reasons the CTU is endorsing Travis.
Having grown up in Bronzeville and graduated from Mann Elementary School, Kenwood High School and the University of Chicago, Travis is well acquainted with many families and organizations in Hyde Park, Kenwood, Bronzeville, Oakland and Grand Boulevard, which are areas that make up a big part of the 26th District. South Shore, South Chicago, Streeterville and the Loop are also in the district.
Travis’ first personal experience with organizing was in the early ’90s as an undergraduate student at Columbia College, when she and several other interns at the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) successfully advocated to bring African American history into the school curriculum. She would go on to lead KOCO as its executive director and work to pass Public Act 1225, which requires the state to allocate about $14 million each year to summer jobs and programs for youth. She also worked on the Deleterious Impact Ordinance, which holds neighborhood storeowners accountable for making sure their stores are not covers for criminal activity and that they provide healthy food options for their customers. Earlier this year, Travis won the Action Now Mahaley Somerville award and the Danny Davis Black Women of Courage award for her work at KOCO.
Travis also worked as the program officer at the Woods Fund of Chicago. In a written announcement of her hire in July 2012, Woods Fund President Grace Hou said Travis is an effective coalition builder who has earned the respect of community leaders across the city.
“Jay has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to democracy and racial justice,” Hou said in the written announcement. “She has positively impacted the landscape of organizing pertaining to education, housing, youth employment and public safety issues.”
Travis, whose platform includes school quality, safe neighborhoods and fair wages, said if elected, making sure community input is the driving force of creating policies would be at the forefront of her agenda.
“The 26th District [has] communities with people who are hardworking and eager to participate in the development of public policy,” Travis said. “People want to have a level of engagement with their elected officials on a regular basis and help develop comprehensive solutions to public safety, job creation and economic development concerns.”