Get to know Odessa Kelly: Out to make U.S. congressional history from Tennessee
If successful in her 2022 bid for office, Kelly would be the first openly-gay Black woman elected to Congress.
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It’s no secret that a lot of Americans are frustrated with and disheartened by the current state of politics, specifically how politicians make empty promises during their campaigns, and then proceed to make choices solely with the intention to get re-elected.
For a lot of eligible voters, the ideal politician, whether they are representing their state in City Council or in Congress, or serving as a Governor or Mayor, is someone who is relatable, authentic, trustworthy and a leader who genuinely cares about the people they represent.
For her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, that is exactly who Odessa Kelly wants to be for her beloved community. Kelly, a Black, queer progressive Democrat with years of experience in community organizing, recently announced her bid for a seat in U.S. Congress.
Kelly, the co-founder of the organization Stand Up Nashville, is not only taking up the bold endeavor of running for Congress, but she’s also taking on a local political dynasty — her opponent’s brother, John Cooper, is currently the Mayor of Nashville within the same district.
But Kelly is not the least bit intimidated by the challenge. If she does defeat her opponent, Jim Cooper, a moderate Democrat, she will become the first openly-gay Black woman in Congress.
Adding to Kelly’s confidence and verve, Kelly is supported by Justice Democrats, the same group that backed progressive Congress members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar.
Recently, Kelly sat down with AL DÍA to learn more about her background and what she plans to do if elected.
Kelly said that it feels both amazing and humbling to be supported by Justice Democrats. Leaders from the group had reached out to Kelly over the years, saying she would be the perfect person to run for office.
“It’s been an amazing feeling to just have these people wrap your arms around you and increasingly ingratiate themselves into, like, my own community and here in Nashville and, you know, do everything they possibly can to help us reach our goals,” she said.
While Justice Democrats may have been onto something when they told Kelly she had everything it takes to be a good candidate, she had to turn them down a few times, because the timing wasn’t right just yet.
Odessa Kelly is executive director of Stand Up Nashville, where she fights for community input and transparency in economic incentive deals, because we have to put human needs before balance sheets.— Odessa Kelly (@OdessaKellyTN) April 26, 2021
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As a prominent and passionate community organizer, she had a lot left to do before she could even think about throwing herself into a campaign. Not only was she fighting for the equality of her fellow community members, for many years, her own financial health and emotional well-being were at stake.
“We made promises to people here in Nashville. And when I started this work, I was fighting for my own life. I wasn’t really thinking about [this work] on a congressional level; I was thinking about survival mode, what’s in front of me today and how do I get this pressure off my neck?” Kelly explained.
One aspect of her story she hopes will give her an edge in the upcoming election is that she truly is one of the people. Similar to a majority of Americans, for some time, Kelly was living paycheck to paycheck.
“I was just a city employee, working for Metro Parks and Recreation, clocking in and out and working with the community — the most impoverished community here in Nashville," she said.
If elected, Kelly’s main priorities would be passing legislation concerning accessible health care, combating climate change, and providing people with a living wage.