Jacobi Crowley is a lot of things: he’s a crisis intervention counselor, a football and track coach, and a radio show host. And, now 25, in 2016 he also became the youngest-ever black Oklahoman to run for state elected office. Though he lost the race, he’s remained as active as ever in his hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma. Here’s a look at how Crowley resists in his community. This post is a part of Generation Progress’ series on Young Resisters.
Generation Progress: From working as a crisis intervention counselor at a school to coaching football and track and hosting your own radio show, you’re really involved in your community. Can you tell us a bit more about each of these positions (and any others we missed!), and how each role allows you to help young people?
Jacobi Crowley: You’re not missing anything! All those positions allow me to be involved in people’s lives. My biggest focus in my community is making sure everyone finds their purpose. As a crisis intervention counselor and coach, radio personality, all those things, I’m able to educate people on things that are going on in their community and to form their own opinions and push them to get involved in things that they may not otherwise get involved in. For me, I’m just happy to be able to be in those positions and be able to push people to become a better person.
Just within my job as a crisis intervention counselor, I work with at-risk youth who have different kinds of problems going on in their households. The biggest problem I see is that kids are coming from all different kinds of walks of life, and you never really know what’s going on in their house. I have a 16-year-old who wants to get involved in the political process, and I told him how he could get involved and it changed his lifestyle, it changed his mind. I think seeing the light that they can do something is helping them in knowing that they can be that doctor, they can be that lawyer.
Generation Progress: In 2016 you ran for State Representative in Oklahoma—even though you didn’t win, can you tell us a bit more about why you decided to run, and what that experience was like for you?
Crowley: I’m from Lawton, Oklahoma. I went to school at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. One of the reasons I ran was, I just asked myself: if I’m not going to do it, who will? My community is suffering. We’re number one in incarceration when it comes to women, and number three in the nation for incarceration for men. My community is one of the highest-ranking incarceration counties in the state. When you do the math, it probably puts us at the top of the nation. This didn’t just happen in the 2000s, this has been happening for a long period of time. A lot of these issues that we face—with incarceration, with education, with economic development—these are issues that have been a problem since the 1990s. My biggest thing is: it’s time to fix them. I’m tired of having the same old, same old conversation. So I ran on some tough issues. I ran on criminal justice reform when I was told not to. I ran on Ban the Box [a criminal justice policy reform to prohibit asking about criminal history at the beginning of the hiring process]. I ran on education and raising teachers’ wages. I ran on making sure that our students are college- and career-ready. I ran on diversifying our economy and making sure we’re not just depending on oil and gas. I ran on community awareness and community identity and making sure we are investing in our veterans, because we have a lot of veterans here. We’ve been closing down schools for the last five to 10 years, and we need to make sure that we’re using these empty buildings for the community.
There are a lot of different things that my community faces, and those are the reasons why I ran—and I don’t see anybody else talking about them. I know why I lost: it’s because I didn’t do the work. I did a lot of things that I didn’t have to do—I went to all the events. I know I need to do grassroots work, knock on those doors, connect with those voters. If you don’t connect with them they won’t vote for you.
Generation Progress: Even though we don’t have exact statistics, we know that, in general, our elected officials are older than today’s young people. What was your experience like running as a young candidate? Did people take you seriously? How do you think your platform, and how you connected with voters, differed from other candidates?
Crowley: I was 23 years old. I was the youngest African American to run for any political state office ever in Oklahoma. It was a big accomplishment, but it was also scary because there were a lot of things that I had to change. I had to take the part out of my hair, because I live in moderate to conservative Oklahoma. I had to dress up. I started to wear suits, I started to dress a little bit more professionally, in looking the part as well as being the part and speaking the part. I got a lot of respect off of that. I also got a lot of pushback: I’m 23 years old, I’m black, I’m young.
Generation Progress: In your opinion, both as a former candidate for state office and as a very involved member of your community, what do you think are the most important issues facing young people in Lawton, Oklahoma? What about across the US? Are there any issues or causes you wish your representatives would take up, but haven’t?
Crowley: My biggest thing is education. I’m really a stickler about it. One of the biggest problems in Lawton is career-readiness and getting people into college. Our biggest thing is training and retaining some of our qualified workers here. The biggest problem, even with me—I graduated from high school in 2010, went to Southeastern Oklahoma State University for four-and-a-half years to play football—and then I got a call, asking me to come back to Lawton with a job offer. And I thought about that: I could go to Dallas, get a job, and it’d be easy. But I came back, because I think you have to take care of home first. When you take care of home first, you’re able to fix everything you need to fix in the world. When you community’s broken, it takes people from the community to come back and fix it.
Generation Progress: From running for state office to working with kids at your local school, your experience working with and for young people runs deep. What advice would you give young people similarly hoping to make progressive change?
Crowley: Do it.
I mean, really. It really kills me when I see young people trying to wait for the right moment. Do it! There’s never a right moment to change the world. If you really want to change the world, do it! Time continues to go, and you’re going to continue to get older. And then one day you’re not going to be young anymore. And then you’re going to have the stigma of being old. I’m saying, do it. This is the time when people are willing to listen to something. One of the things I tell my students all the time is: I promise you if you come to a meeting, a community meeting, and you speak up, and I bet someone will listen to you. It’s time for us to start talking. If we speak directly, if we speak the truth, people will listen to what we say. Look at the things we have started over the last 5 years, it’s all been Millennials.
Instead of helping people run for office, Millennials need to be running for office!
There are lots of people helping people run for office, and I’m like: you need to run. Run for political office. You can apply for that position. You have all the skills and materials, you do it. So make sure tomorrow’s not too late.