On Tuesday, October 23, one week after Chance the Rapper's endorsement of Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Eniya, Kanye West donated $73,540 to her campaign—the exact dollar amount needed to pay off her debt to the Illinois Board of Elections. These endorsements have turned a small but lively campaign into what Enyia calls a movement. “The whole campaign has a vibe that’s tangible," she tells MarieClaire.com.
So, behind the big-name endorsements, who is the potential Mayor Eniya? Well, she calls herself a bridge builder. A resident of West Chicago and the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants, Amara Enyia knows what it’s like to straddle different worlds. Not only is she a lawyer, a doctor of psychology, an activist, an Ironman competitor, and now, one of Chicago's candidates for mayor, but she comes from a legacy of activism. “From my great grandmother who initiated one of the largest uprisings against the British back in 1929, to my parents, who fought in Nigeria’s civil war because of the genocide that was taking place," Enyia explains.
After the family's move to the United States, Enyia’s parents continued to help organize the resistance in Nigeria. Enyia and her five siblings were expected to pitch in, too: The candidate recalls staying up late to type her father’s book, a blueprint for Nigerian democracy. She grew up at press conferences and eavesdropped on late-night phone calls with people from around the world as her parents continued to fight, all from a suburb outside of Chicago. Enyia says that her parents impressed upon her and her siblings that every gift, skill, and talent they had must be used in service of others.
That’s what being a bridge builder truly means, Enyia says. “It’s having deeply ingrained values of equity, justice, and the responsibility that we have to serve people,” she says. Growing up in a bicultural family in a city like Chicago, Enyia quickly learned to navigate different cultures and prides herself on being able to relate to people from all walks of life. “That’s why my campaign is really just a reflection of the work I’ve spent my entire career doing,” Enyia says.
If elected mayor, the candidate says she would start by focusing on three issues: Violence, the economy and education.
In October 2018, the Chicago Tribune reported that 2,467 people had been shot in the city. But Enyia argues that the city's violence is not a public safety issue, but rather an investment issue. “Violence is a manifestation of public policy failings across the board—it is the lack of investment in an inclusive economy,” she says. Instead of focusing solely on increased police presence, Enyia suggests that Chicago try something different. It’s about more than hiring police officers or investing in police infrastructure—it's about investing in the things that build strong individuals and strong communities, Enyia says.
Enyia also believes that progress starts with rebuilding the city's economy. First, she wants to create a public bank for Chicago whose sole responsibility is to make the city’s economy strong. The bank will be capitalized by tax dollars, so no new funding is required, she says, and it will fund infrastructure projects as well issue both small business loans and home loans, encouraging the people of Chicago to stay and reinvest in their own city. Enyia also wants to diversify the city's economic ecosystem through what she calls cooperative economic models, like worker-owned cooperatives, community land trusts, and housing co-ops. "These are the sorts of models that build community wealth, that build generational wealth and they create opportunities for ownership," says Enyia.
But Enyia also emphasizes the importance of revitalizing the city's education system. “Any child, regardless of the neighborhood they live in. should have access to a high quality school in that neighborhood,” says Enyia. This means investing money back into the city's public school system, which, according to a 2017 report by the Chicago Tribune, saw an enrollment drop of nearly 10,000 students this year.
Enyia knows her plans are lofty, but emphasizes that Chicago needs transformative changes. “It’s about the chipping away at the inevitability that 'things are just the way things are,'" she says. Chicago is worthy of more than that, Enyia says. And the city and its people need a leader who can actualize the Chicago it deserves. “The fact that we can imagine a greater city means that we can make it happen."
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Alexis Jones is an assistant editor at Women's Health where she writes across several verticals on WomensHealthmag.com, including life, health, sex and love, relationships and fitness, while also contributing to the print magazine. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, lives in Brooklyn, and proudly detests avocados.
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