Joe Dillard of Norfolk, Virginia is a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates and was the youngest NAACP chapter president in the United States in 2014. We recently interviewed him about his unique experiences as a politically active young person; he has valuable advice to offer to other young people hoping to follow in his footsteps.
Have you faced any unique challenges as a young person running for the Virginia House of Delegates?
Yes. I think, as a young person, a lot of times you have to prove yourself before you introduce yourself. Working in Norfolk has provided me a great opportunity to do so. Here we’re always challenged to be and do as opposed to say and promise. Our people are short on time and big on follow through.
The unique challenge of finding ways to communicate what you want for Norfolk and getting people on board is challenging for anyone. We all want to go into the next administration of Virginia with more jobs, better schools and safer neighborhoods. As a millennial, I sometimes feel I have to go the extra mile to prove that I’m not here for the consolation prize. I’m here to bring the grit and resolve it takes to be at the forefront of urban cities. And I find that the more people I talk to, the more I feel Norfolk wants that.
I’ve also always been the oldest sibling of five. I think most people who know my two younger brothers and two younger sisters know I involuntarily grew up fast.
What will be some of your legislative priorities in the House of Delegates?
Better neighborhoods and rebuilding Infrastructure. We’re an old city, but that should be a strength not a liability. Plumbing, streets, schools and parks aren’t glamorous subjects – but they’re vital elements to the health and future of our city. Infrastructure is also complicated, expensive and we can’t expect to do it alone. When Virginia passed laws decades ago that resulted in the defined city we have today, the state promised not to abandon the older cities. I plan to be a constant advocate for Norfolk in that regard. I want to bring investment to Norfolk that builds a better Norfolk. We can only do that by getting people on board with the vision we have for the future of Norfolk and South Hampton Roads as a whole. We face environmental challenges and sea level rise. Those solutions are found in collaborations with local, state and federal partners. We weren’t named one of Rockefeller Foundation’s Top 100 Resilient cities as a civic exercise. We have to work well with others. Our economic realities as a nation are changing quicker than we can hashtag them, and I want those looking to invest in a thriving city to know that Norfolk is at the forefront of that idea.
Secondly, building better neighborhoods encompasses everything that motivated me to get involved in community engagement. Norfolk is not alone in facing hurdles that challenge many urban cities across America. Violence too common and we bury too many of our young people. I cannot turn a blind eye to my neighbor’s suffering. I will work to make our streets safer and our schools better equipped to bring forth the next generation.
In 2014 you became the youngest NAACP president in the United States. What are some areas of policy for which you believe that youth and racial issues intersect?
The issues involving race relations and injustice in America transcend all age groups. The challenge for my generation is take up the issues and continue in the hard work that still needs to be done.
Our socioeconomic reality may be better than it was when the NAACP was formed in 1909, but with a century of work behind us we still have not achieved equality or even parity. Black youth still find it harder to get jobs in the summer. Statistically our young people are not gaining important workforce skills on par with the rest of their peers. We are still challenged in getting our young people to seize the opportunities that can exist if they strive for them.
Also, racial injustice grows when we fail to hold our leadership and ourselves accountable. In the Norfolk Chapter of the NAACP we have been challenging our youth to do more politically, and the results have been showing, but the level of civic engagement in the black community – regardless of generation – still needs to grow and develop.
From your experience in politics, what are some of the best ways for young people to become more politically active?
First, young people need to learn the process. The rules are there for a reason. Everyone needs to learn the rules so they can work within the process to hold leadership accountable and affect change. Young people also need to be more steadfast in communicating priorities to their elected officials. One thing that troubles me is how often our youth don’t even know who’s representing them, and who is functioning as their voice with regard to their concerns. To achieve your goals you have to let people know what those goals are and you have to ask the people who are in a position to help. The more we can get young people to understand their role in the political system and how important it is to use the tools of a constituent to demand results, the sooner we will see increase equality in access to education, workforce and healthcare opportunities.
You can connect with Joe here:
Interview by Kate Canavan