Quentin James, 28
Founder of The Collective PAC, COO of Vestige Strategies
Quentin James was a 19-year-old college student back in 2007 when Illinois Sen. Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president. James dropped out of school to join Obama's campaign, where he traveled the country and played a key role in early organizing and canvassing.
"My parents were not happy," said the Greenville, South Carolina native, chuckling. "They thought I was throwing away my future. After Obama won, I went back to college proud that I'd been part of history."
Today, James — who later transferred to Howard University and earned his degree — leans upon that legacy in his role as founder of The Collective PAC, an organization designed to build African-American political clout by supporting the election of Black candidates at the local, state and federal level.
"I believe my work is about us all giving back and uplifting those in our communities who want to be public servants," said James. "By pooling our resources collectively, we can ensure that we have equal representation in government."
The first group of candidates supported by the Washington, D.C.-based political action committee included California's former attorney general, Kamala Harris, who is now the second Black female U.S. Senator in history; plus Orlando's Val Demings and Delaware's Lisa Blunt Rochester, African-American women who both recently won seats in Congress.
James is also the co-founder of Vestige Strategies, a civic engagement consulting firm. The COO runs it with his wife, Stefanie Brown James, a fellow political operative who previously held national roles in the campaigns of Obama and Hillary Clinton. "There was a moment in college when I predicted we'd be together. That was February 2008," recalls James. "I remember because we were watching the Super Tuesday election results.
Recent transplants to Cleveland, Ohio from the nation's capital, the power couple has one son, Carter, and another baby is on the way. "We're millennials devoted to building the community's political power," said James, "but we're also building our family with a powerful foundation of Black love."
DEFINE YOUR WORK IN THREE HASHTAGS #BuildingBlackPoliticalPower #Kingmaker #SocialEntrepreneur
WHAT'S YOUR GO-TO ALBUM TO GET MOTIVATED? As a creative person, I mostly find that I don't need motivation but rather focus. My go to album for focus is Kendrick Lamar's `To Pimp A Butterfly.' I see a parallel in the issues he describes in the music industry with those in the political space.
WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT SOCIAL/POLITICAL ISSUE NOT BEING DISCUSSED RIGHT NOW IN AMERICA? I believe it is the challenge of representation among our elected officials. Why is it that white men, who are 31 percent of our population, hold over 65 percent of all elected positions? We have a situation where the people who write the law, defend the law and fund the law don't represent the demographics of the American population. If this continues, we will be stuck in a position of continually asking those from outside our communities to save our communities. I don't want that future and I bet most people in our community don't either.