The Larsosa family’s going to help make it all Krystal clear!

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Khary Wae Frazier, founder of Detroit Is Different podcast, interviewed mayoral candidate Jasahn M. Larsosa and Detroit City Council candidate Krystal Larsosa.  The married couple discussed their Southern roots, their positive childhood experiences, and their love of the City.  They grew up on a very close-knit block in the Joy Road area, and still maintain relationships with old friends.  Their three daughters have their own channel, the “Hershey Kisses.”  Commenting on his youth, Jasahn said, “I got into some trouble trying to find myself.”  When he returned home, he “realized how disconnected everything was, how disconnected everybody was.”  He and Krystal are committed to institution building and restoring community unity in Detroit neighborhoods. Riverwise ed.

Khary: What was it like being a kid in your neighborhood?

Jasahn: Like growing up on a street just abuzz with families and young people, children; but when I made it back home, I realized how few people have that kind of closeness and connectedness now. When we bought a house recently, one of the first things we did was go door to door and introduce our family to everybody on the block.

Khary: That’s deep.

Jasahn: We connected everybody on that block and now when newcomers come, we welcome them, too, with gift baskets, and everybody’s connected…. People aren’t staying put very long like they used to, and there aren’t community schools to glue people together. You used to go to the same elementary school with people, same middle school, and then the same high school with people, and you all were connected for life. And now we look back and a lot of our history has been erased. Schools are disappearing, and it’s like your childhood never even happened.

Khary: You’re in education now….  What led you in that path? 

Jasahn: I’m actually founding director of Advocacy Equity and Community Empowerment, which is kind of a cross-cutting focus across our early learning, youth development, adult workforce, and then food justice program to make sure that everything that we’re doing is through an equity lens and that we’re being a preeminent organization as it relates to policy and anti-racism.  In that work, I get to interact with parents and families.

Khary: And that’s really what I want to talk about.

Jasahn: I’m in community education and advocacy. It’s not my job to instruct young people in the same way that people are taught in traditional school….  I’m first and foremost a community organizer. So I try to create the context in which people learn and connect with one another and grow….  When we think about not only what people are taught as children, but the way people are taught, it really just doesn’t make good sense….   I’m pretty bright, but the grades that I earned weren’t reflective of that. What it’s reflective of is a really, really obsolete system of education that I think was constructed around the need to keep young people busy while their parents were in the plant. We were recreating plant-like thinkers through this system of education.

Khary: When you engage with parents, what’s the feedback you’re getting?

Jasahn: I don’t profess to speak for all parents, but I have spoken to a number of parents. By and large, parents trust the system and not without critique. There are a lot of critiques about what the system could be doing better, but parents want what we all want for our children and that’s for them to be in a safe learning environment and to reach their fullest potential by having their capacity built out ….  Also parents want to be able to work and do other things that improve the lives of those young people. So when they send students to [whatever school], their best and their most full hope is that “My child’s going to learn something and they’re going to be something because of this institution.”  

It doesn’t dawn on us, and it shouldn’t have to dawn on us, to be quite honest, so this is no fault or shade to parents, but we don’t think to ourselves this really isn’t the appropriate system to be educating our kids….  More than anything, we need young people who can be creative to create new things and be entrepreneurial; but that’s not the learning environment that they’re in. And I think that we’re setting our parents up and we’re setting up our children for a big upset as they move into adulthood if we’re not honest with them about what the changing world is calling for. And it begins at education and I just don’t think that we’re addressing that.

Khary: How did your [family] business venture come about?

Krystal: Our girls have their own platform, the Hershey Kisses, and they have almost 300,000 followers. ….  It’s an avenue for Black girls to be inspired….  My oldest, she was like, “Mom, I’ve been watching YouTube, just watching people be creative, and I’m thinking about a channel.”  And they did [create the channel] and they dance, and they just inspire Black girls to be confident in the skin they’re in.

Khary: How has that changed their thinking, to watch something grow from their mind to real life, to see others galvanize around it?

Krystal: They initially wanted to quit, they were like, “No, we’re not getting the followers that we want.” And I told them, “We’re not watching everybody. Let’s do what’s right. Do where we feel like there’s a niche and just go with it.  You girls are going to be consistent.”  So they were like, “Okay.” 

Khary: Okay. So now, you all are looking to expand what’s in the community, and run for office.  What was the inspiration, Jasahn, looking to run for mayor?  Obviously, you all had to have that conversation together first. What was that like, just saying, “Okay, I’m doing this?”

Jasahn: It was crazy. I can respond, but Krystal, just chime in… This has been an incredible journey, Khary, to say the least. People who know me know that pursuing elected office is the furthest thing that I ever dreamed of for myself. It’s not the first time somebody urged me to go, but I think that in our community, people see you in front of people. They see you have abilities or whatever. First thing we think is you should be a preacher or you should run for office. I’ve rejected both notions.

Khary: Reverend Jasahn.

Jasahn: Yeah. So I’m a community organizer. I like to be behind the scenes. I’ve gotten a lot of people elected. I prefer being in the nonprofit sector, so this time around, same thing. “You should consider running for office.” Later, we got wind that people had started collecting signatures, not only on my behalf, but also on Krystal’s behalf….  Then she came into our room at one point and said, “Baby, I think that you should run for mayor.”   When she says things, they become real to me. When she speaks a word to me, it takes root. So I did think about it. 

And really what I thought about with my lens of being pro Black, anti-racism lens, racial equity lens, community organizer, movement builder lens, I thought about the potential for what a campaign with me as the candidate could do for people, and this was the ultimate selling point.   I mean it wasn’t an easy selling point because I still deliberated for a lot of months, and when I decided that I would accept people’s urging, it wasn’t until I had almost fully formulated in my mind what the goals of a campaign would be. 

Obviously, the primary goal of the campaign is to secure the job. I’m interviewing for a job to be mayor of the city of Detroit. And I’m interviewing for that job because I want a race-equity-reform, resident-driven, clean, safe, prosperous neighborhoods agenda. And if I get the job, that’s what I’m going to do.

But I’m also an outsider and the odds of my winning the job are against me. Certainly it’s possible, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it, but they’re against me. So I have to ask myself what else do I want to accomplish through this race, with Krystal and me running as a slate. 

We developed these goals together.   I mentioned the first goal was to pursue a clean, safe, and prosperous neighborhoods agenda.  The second goal is to elevate the voices of people who are least heard, people who are oppressed and ignored by the political process, politics as usual.

I’m somebody who’s been formerly incarcerated as a result of what I call the catastrophically misguided war on drugs….  I understand the lasting impacts that bad policy can have on a good community.   And between that understanding and my understanding of the temptations and pitfalls with which young people are faced, I thought that my being in the race could do something to elevate people’s voices. 

And then the third goal that we discussed was and is to create new inspiration for Black people and for Brown people who deserve this inspiration and especially young people to step up and lead through the expertise of our lived experience.

We envision that this can be a national movement where people like us — my wife who set aside her career to focus on our daughters – have the audacity to step forward and say, “I’m qualified to be a city councilwoman. Why?  Because I know how to run a house. I know how to manage business and I know what’s good for community because I live in community.” As somebody who’s been formerly incarcerated, who never thought about stepping foot into elected office, we have the ability to lead because we have the lived experience, and that in itself is expertise and we want to inspire people in Detroit and all over the country to do the same thing. This ain’t about big money. It ain’t about being business savvy.

This is really not the traditional way to approach political office.  We could accomplish two of those three really big goals without even getting the job.… My colleagues don’t understand it. They think there’s only one objective when you get your name put on a ballot and that is to win and beat the opponents. And certainly, as I’m saying, I want the job. It wasn’t my dream job, but I’m going for it. But it has to be about more than that [winning].  The last point I’ll make on that is the reason why.

This culture of gun to your head, lesser of evils voting that we recreate, adopt again and again continually gets us into trouble that we employ that same strategy to get out of. And it’s not enough. Not only is it not enough, it’s counterproductive. It’s the opposite of what we need. People have to be inspired and if I’m only in it to win for myself, this is when I start to compromise…We don’t have a lot to spare, but we put $20,000 of our own money in it so far, not because I woke up thinking that I really want this job, but because I thought this really is a good opportunity to effect some change and build some movement, no matter who wins.

Khary: And Krystal, what was the catalyst for you?  How did that conversation go when you all were talking as a couple, as friends, as supporters of one another, when you decided, “Yeah, I’m going to do this, too?”

Krystal: So initially when it was brought to me, I said no, thinking, “I’m not this politician who makes promises and then doesn’t keep them. That’s not me.”  But I thought about it, I prayed and I said, “You know what?  I can give my perspective as a mother, as a wife raising three beautiful Black, brilliant girls in the City. I’ll make sure that voices are brought to the table that are normally ignored and oppressed.” And I said, “Let’s do this!”