26-year old Mariah Parker was sworn in as Athens-Clarke county commissioner in Georgia on Tuesday (June 5).
Rocking an amazing afro with her fist raised high and carrying a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X instead of the Bible is how Mariah took her oath of office as the District 2 county commissioner on the steps of City Hall in downtown Athens, Georgia – with her mother right by her side.
District 2 is described by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “an economically struggling swath of east Athens that lacks some of the same amenities that other parts of town enjoyed.” Parker, who won by 13 votes, stated in a phone interview that her political beliefs are more about transformation than progression.
“We want to progress things, but we also want to transform them because the current systems that we have just aren’t working for most people,” she says. “Trying to make them as best we can isn’t enough. We have to completely restructure them.”
A doctoral student in linguistics at the University of Georgia, Mariah Parker worked on the campaign of District 9 candidate Tommy Valentine and credits him for encouraging her to run for county commissioner. However, there was a time when Mariah felt that she was unfit to run for public office. “I had always told myself people like me don’t run for office,” she said.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Parker, who openly identifies as queer, grew up poor in rural Kentucky, dealt with substance abuse, and struggled with mental health issues. “I was very lucky to break away from some of the generational patterns, by going to college and getting out of the town,” she says. “But I struggled and I thought people only looked at me as having nothing to offer.” She says she now sees growing up with a tumultuous family life and experiencing self-doubt as a result of “repeated racial aggressions” as a strength and way for her to ensure she’s always working to be the voice of underserved communities.
“You can’t wait for a hero to show up. If you see injustice and you see a need for someone to take action, it has to be you,” says Mariah. “Some of [those past struggles] are important for the styles of governance I strive to have.”