From an early age, Jael Myrick seemed destined for a life in politics.
He remembers how his mother signed him up for the debate team before his freshman year at Kennedy High School in Richmond.
“That summer I wanted to go to KMEL Summer Jam, but my mom made me go to debate camp,” he said. He stayed on the team, participating in tournaments all the way through high school. “It was helpful, and I can say it would be very unlikely that I’d be doing what I’m doing if I weren’t on the debate team,” he said.
At 21, he co-founded an organization, “Standing To Represent Our Next Generation (STRONG),” to encourage young people to be more active in politics. He later went to work for the League of Conservation Voters, where he lobbied politicians to pass environmental laws.
“[There were] times when we would watch someone change their vote within one hour because they would get so many calls to their office,” he said. It was a lesson in exercising political power he would not forget.
Myrick, now 27, is the youngest and newest member of the Richmond City Council. He was appointed by the council on Feb. 4. He is also senior field representative for Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner.
Myrick, whose seat will be up for election in 2014, was raised in San Pablo. His parents and grandparents live in Richmond. He has one brother.
While growing up, he had the opportunity to live in a diverse community, where everyone was all very working class. These experiences and friends helped form his view of society, he said.
He says it was when he went to work in 2009 for Assemblymember Skinner that he learned the intricacies of politics. But according to Skinner, he already had a profound grasp of political life in Richmond.
“I was impressed early on with his knowledge of politics, history, districts, races, campaigns; he’s a student of politics,” she said.
Though Richmond City Council has become known for its acrimonious conflicts, Myrick views the differences as something he can navigate.
He said many people see his appointment as a hopeful light, and he has good relationships with everyone on the council. He said he has found something in common with each of them.
“Are we going to have differences? Yes, and that’s fine. Some of the spirited debate is necessary,” he said. But by focusing on the needs of the community, some of the bickering can be set aside.
Health issues are important, especially improving air quality, he said, emphasizing the importance of holding Chevron accountable for the decisions it makes.
People have to take into account the influence that Chevron has as a major employer and the largest taxpayer in the city, he said, “Politically they have a lot of clout, and that makes it easy for them to get their way sometimes.”
Public safety is also an ongoing issue in the city, he said. Richmond’s high crime rate has been coming down, partly because of the improving economy, he said, as well as the efforts of community-based programs and the police department.
At the top of his agenda are youth issues. Long-term, he is looking for a way to solve crime and foster a healthy community by creating a practical program that provides money so every young person in Richmond can go to college, said Myrick. “We need to invest in all our young folks so they feel confident and have a plan for the future.”