Jamal Bryant speaks at the AFRO’s offices in Baltimore. (Photo by Da’Rrell L. Privott)
In a stunning move, Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant announced on Sept. 14 that he would challenge Rep. Elijah Cumming for his seat in the 7th Congressional District.
Bryant, a Baltimore native, is the pastor of the 12,000 member Empowerment Temple in West Baltimore which he founded in April 2000.
Cummings, who has held the seat since 1996, is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and a longtime member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Bryant recently gained national prominence for his involvement in the Freddie Gray protests as well as delivering the eulogy at Gray’s funeral. He also made headlines for leading a traffic-blocking demonstration against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed youth detention center.
Bryant made the case that he is not looking to replace Cummings, but rather to promote him by encouraging him to run for Barbara Mikulski’s open Senate seat. Cummings, for his part, has indicated that he is running for reelection saying in a statement, “Any assumption that I will not run for re-election to the House of Representatives from Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in 2016 is definitely premature.”
Bryant frames the issue as one of keeping Baltimore represented in the highest state offices. “In the absence of him running , it will be the very first time in recent Maryland history that we’ve not had Baltimore representation in the Governor’s mansion or in the Senate which puts us in a very vulnerable place,” he said. For the record, current Senator Ben Cardin is from Baltimore.
“You have a generation that feels disenfranchised on the political system,” Bryant said in an interview at The AFRO’s Baltimore office. “You need somebody who can tap into this generation to mobilize.”
Since Bryant has protested against police brutality it is no surprise that he believes adjustments need to be made to the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County police departments.
On his campaign website, Bryant even goes as far as saying “the police are letting us all down”.
“There is in fact an invisible, undeclared war between citizens and the police,” Bryant said. “If you ask the average Caucasian what is their confidence in the police, police are in their top three. If you ask the average African American at any age demographic, police confidence doesn’t come in until seven to nine.”
Bryant would like to see actual changes made to police policies and “not just put a Band-Aid on an area that needs open heart surgery,” he said.
Bryant added that the level of unemployed high-school graduates in Maryland, the amount of people with substance abuse addiction, and the number of abandoned homes in Maryland are examples of other problems that need to be fixed in Maryland.
Bryant said that a lack of funding in Maryland has contributed to these issues, which is what lead him to run for the House seat.
“I made a decision that I wanted to run for Congress and not mayor because Congress gives me more access to capital and funding that I think our city so desperately needs,” Bryant said.
Although Bryant is new to politics, he has known since around the age of 15 that it is something he wanted to venture into. While at Morehouse College he majored in political science and international studies as an undergraduate.
“I was a high school intern for Congressman Mfume”, Bryant said. “I was his third-hired when he became president of the NAACP. I came out of divinity school to work with him.”
Despite Bryant being raised and educated in the 7th district, some voters have concerns that he will not be successfully able to represent the district since he is not a resident.
It is not required for members of the House of Representatives to live in the district that they represent, though many of them do.
“I have a school in the 7th district which is the lead charter school in Baltimore and I happen to pastor a church in the 7th district representing 12,000 people,” Bryant said. “What’s more important is not, do I live six blocks away from the line, but will I cross the line to deal with the issues.”
Bryant is still in the early stages of setting up his campaign and said that he will need to raise over $1 million dollars in order to be competitive. His plan is to raise that amount in small amounts, similar to what President Barack Obama did in his first presidential run.
Voters may also have concerns over Bryant’s past work in reality television. One show that he appeared on, “The Ultimate Merger,” was created by Donald Trump, who is currently running to be the Republican nominee for president.
“You’re talking about somebody who says they can fix the economy after filing bankruptcy four times,” Bryant said. “You’re talking about somebody who stands on family values after three divorces. It’s a walking contradiction, but it says regrettably and ashamedly where our thinking is”
Like Trump, Bryant has also faced public backlash. After news broke that he fathered a child outside of his marriage, he was asked to temporarily step down from his position at Empowerment Temple. Bryant, a father of five, is divorced.
Still, Bryant does not believe that this should play a factor in his campaign.
“For me to have had a child out of wedlock does not impair me from vision, it does not impair me from leading and it doesn’t impair me from conviction.”