Chi Ossé is the Future of Brooklyn's 36th District
The 23-year-old sits down with V to talk about growing up in Brooklyn, Black Lives Matter and his campaign policies.
The 23-year-old sits down with V to talk about growing up in Brooklyn, Black Lives Matter and his campaign policies.
Photography: Eric Hart Jr
Styling: Brandon Tan
Text: Kala Herh
Chi Ossé is not your typical political candidate. Running for District 36, which represents the people of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, his platform is based on three key statements: affordable housing, public safety and sanitation. “I would like to make sure that one, we keep people housed, two, we find people jobs and three, we improve the quality of life for people that live within this community,” Ossé said from his home, the day voting kicked off.
In many ways, Ossé’s run is unprecedented. He’s queer, multi-racial and that’s not to mention, only 23-years-old. And he is using his Generation Z lens to serve his Black and Brown constituents, who he was once a part of. Ossé was born in North Crown Heights and has lived in the neighborhood for the past two decades. “I did grow up here,” he elaborated. “Both my parents did as well, as well as their grandparents moved here. Brooklyn is who I am.” And with his candidacy, he is revolutionizing New York City politics. Critical of dirty money and organizations pumping money to gain favor with candidates, Ossé pledged to run a completely grassroots campaign, meaning that he collects a majority of his funds from supporters.
Since high school, Ossé has always been outspoken about various injustices in society, but it wasn't until the brutal police killings that took place last summer that prompted him to run for office. “I think George Floyd’s murder was a catalyst to getting me to where I am at here today,” he added. In response to the police killings of George Floyd, the young activist co-founded Warriors in the Garden. This activist collective not only mobilized thousands of New Yorkers in marches and rallies, but also helped repeal 50-a, a provision that was previously used to shield police disciplinary records from the public.
We sat down with the rising politician and activist to understand his background and policies (which you can also learn about here).
V MAGAZINE: So you were born and raised in Brooklyn? What was that like?
CHI OSSÉ: So I am a third-generation Brooklynite, as you said, I did grow up here. Both my parents did as well, as well as their grandparents moved here. But you know, Brooklyn is who I am. It's this melting pot of various different cultures, energy. In life, that is such a pleasurable, you know, experience and environment to grow up in. It definitely plays a role in my politics. I'm half Haitian, my dad's grandmother moved here from Haiti, and my mom is half Black, half Chinese, you know, that's Brooklyn in of itself. Something that I like to say often is that being black in this country, and city is political in of itself. And I feel like Brooklyn is a hub, or even the hub of culture here in New York City. And it's kind of formed my race for city council – it's this connection between both culture and politics, and bridging that gap to to affect change within my community, and Brooklyn as a whole. But yeah, I loved growing up here. Such a pleasurable experience. You grow up rather quickly, because you see a lot of crazy shit. You hear a lot of crazy sh*t, people are doing a lot of crazy sh*t. But that's Brooklyn. And that's New York, and I'm so blessed to have been from here.
V: Were you interested in advocacy at an early age? How did that manifest?
CO: Yeah, I mean, I've always been someone that has spoken up about things that I've been dissatisfied with, uncomfortable with. If I felt prejudice here or there, I was lucky to be raised in a family that had us thinking and being aware of being profiled, you know, just for being Black. And I was raised with that mindset growing up. And with that mindset, which I'm very proud of having, I always spoke up about things that were a little racy for me.
V: What did those earlier years of advocacy look like and what were some of the first social issues you spoke out against?
CO: I think one of the first moments that I remember, was in third grade, and my history teacher was teaching about slavery, and taught like, one chapter of it, and I called her out, because I thought she should have taught more. So I think that's one of my first moments of advocacy. But, you know, it's, it's transformed over the years and I started using my voice more and started learning more and started reading more. And I would say, in middle school and high school, I went to a predominantly white school, and always spoke up about the diversity issues there. How Black and Brown students were treated, race relations within this country, and how that school as an institution should do better, and kind of just speaks to, again, everything that I'm doing now, you know, these majority-white institutions that we live in, within life, should be called out for the for their behavior, and should be reimagined, through policy, through activism through advocacy. And I guess that's my path to getting to where I am here today.
V: During the pandemic and at the height of the BLM movement you created Warriors in the Garden? What was it like putting this collective together and spearheading it?
CO: Yeah, so I am now a former member of Warriors in the Garden, but you know, we did co-found that organization about a year ago, in the midst of chaos, that was the start of, I guess this large movement that was Black Lives Matter this past summer. And we all shared a common goal, you know, to dismantle the racist system that exists when it comes to policing and incarceration. You know, we took to the streets we organized, we protested, we signed, put out petitions, we definitely aided in repealing 50-a on the state level, we started the first steps in ending qualified immunity on the city council and on a municipal level. I'm very proud of the work that we've done. I'm hoping that they continue doing the work that we initially wanted to do when we first stepped in.
V: What initiative prompted you to run for office?
CO: I like to say that Black Lives Matter. Either the model, the movement, the statement inspired my run for office, I think George Floyd was in his murder was a catalyst to getting me to where I am at here today. You know, we say Black Lives Matter. And many people only hear that or see that in the sense of law enforcement killing Black and Brown men, women and children. But, you know, it extends further than that, as someone that has grown up in this predominantly Black community, we are red lines in a district where we live with deeply underfunded city agencies, whether it's our public housing, or public education systems, affordable, healthy foods, healthcare systems, infrastructure, these are the various things that aid or hurt the quality of life for Black and Brown people. And unfortunately, my community has been dealt a poor hand when it comes to those resources. So again, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement was the catalyst. But I had this feeling and dissatisfaction with what was happening with my community long before that. However, I finally took that leap of faith with the momentum that we had, during this past summer, to really affect some real change within this community.
V: What are some things you’d like the people of District 36 to know about you and your campaign?
CO: There's three issues that I really do want to tackle. One being affordable housing. I think housing is a human right. Evictions are an act of violence. I've seen my neighbors, this place left and right here in this community. Many of our past electeds love to say that the color of gentrification is white, but the color of gentrification is green. When you follow the money of our past electeds and individuals running in this race, there's a lot of dirty money, you know, going into the pockets of our electeds whether it's opportunistic developers, police unions, fossil fuel interests. Since Day 1 of me jumping into this race I pledged to run a 100% grassroots campaign and break that dichotomy so that we can affect some real change for our neighbors. And affordable housing is one of those priorities, building truly affordable housing for people within this community. Two is public safety. I am running in a district where gun violence does exist. Yet the police budget grows year after year after year, crime continues to rise as well. When you look at, again, the funding into the pockets of our elected police unions are lobbying within our city government. So instead of our electeds, running and governing for us, they're governing for those donors that are putting money in their pockets. We need a more holistic approach to healing our community. Now think about why people commit crimes, whether it's lack of food on their table, or money in their pockets, or even a roof over their head. If we provide people those resources, I believe that crime and gun violence will fall. And final sanitation. I don't see sanitation to be a secondary issue. I think it's all contingent along with poverty and crime. And injustices that we see within this community. I believe a clean, recyclable, compostable community is a healthy thriving one. And that's something that I immediately want to tackle when I am the next council member of this district.
V: What has your experience as a Black queer political candidate been?
CO: I want to shout out every single one of my queer ancestors that have gotten me—Black and queer ancestors that have gotten me to this point without them and their sacrifices, I wouldn't be where I am here today. However, it has been difficult being young, being Black, being queer, I'm not taking as seriously as some of the other candidates, or initially I have not been taken seriously and even across the city. But I know that I'm comfortable in the skin that I'm in. I'm staying true to myself. These other candidates can say whatever they want, but it's up to the people. And the people are responding well to what we're saying and what we're doing, because what we're doing is going to help them at the end of the day, not you know, my identity, my background, which definitely you know, is incorporated within my policy and my leadership. But people just want to see something that will help them out within their lives, help the working class out, help them Trans and Queer community out, help the unsheltered community out. And that's what we're providing. And people can say whatever they want, about my background, and not take me as seriously as they should. But, you know, look at our endorsements, look at the money we've raised. Look at the movement we've built, because at the end of the day, that's what's going to help us get past the finish line.
V: What role do you think your parents played in your political journey?
CO: First and foremost, my parents have always taught me to be proud of my Blackness. I think that's an important lesson to teach young Black kids and it's definitely given me the confidence to be doing what I'm doing now. My mom she's a badass. Now a single mother as my dad recently passed away, small business owner. She's someone that gets sh*t done. I come from a family of individuals that work hard, that like to win, that are competitive. And that's exactly the type of person that I am. And that's what I'm doing in this race. And that's what I'll continue to do in terms of winning for my community. In terms of my issues, I grew up in this neighborhood. And I would hate to see it continue to be sold out to individuals that do not have its best interests at heart. Again, my parents raised me here, this community made me the person that I am here today. And it's my duty, throughout all of my policies, to nurture this community, to protect this community, and to put in the foundations or at least fix the foundations that will help this community thrive and survive.
V: What about your father, Reggie Ossé, the famous hip-hop editor, journalist, and entertainment editor?
CO: From my father, I definitely learned a lot from what he's done professionally. His voice was a tool to share stories and also bridging that gap between culture and politics, which is essential to engaging individuals that have never been engaged before, when it comes to their civic duties, which is something that I've learned in practice through my run for city council.
V: What mark or message are you hoping to leave on your district?
CO: That's a good question. I would like to make sure that one we keep people housed, two we find people jobs and three, we improve the quality of life for people that live within this community. And in order for us to do that I want to show my future constituents hopefully, that their next elected is going to be proactive, rather than reactive, on the ball and providing 21st-century problems with 21st-century solutions. Because the future is here. And we need real effective change in order to provide that.
V: And what’s next for you? I know voting has just begun but what does the next few years look like for Chi Osse?
CO: I think politics is something else. You know, it's I never thought I would run for office before. I think it's a messy game with a lot of messy players. I want to make sure that again, we put people over politics, I want to help the community. I want to help my neighbors, I want to help the people of the 36 district and make sure that I'm providing them with the resources and the aid and the ear that they need, and have been denied for a long time. That's my main duty. That's my main goal to help people because that's why I'm in the race in the first place.
V: Lastly, why should people in your district vote for you?
CO: I have a proven track record of acting, and helping and through a time of crisis. During this entire campaign, while my opponents were running for office, I was running for a job. And that's the type of leadership and governance and the type of individual that we need to be our next elected. There's too much complacency that exists within politics, too much dirty money that exists within politics. And I'm neither of those things. And that's what we need. And that's what I will be as your next councilmember here in the 36th district.
For more information on Chi Ossé and his campaign head to Osse2021.com