Since announcing Don's campaign for the DFL's Fifth Congressional District nomination weeks ago, we've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from across the city, region and country. People believe this moment calls for a more collaborative approach to leadership — one that remains connected to the realities our communities face on a daily basis.
Don is in a fight against the breakdown of our political system, and we stand together with our community, ready to take on that challenge.
Like Rep. Ilhan Omar, we know that Don's life will be fully examined. Like Omar, we know that his public statements and social media accounts will be closely scrutinized. And like Omar, we know that people will seek to malign his character and our work.
Local activist Roxxanne O'Brien recently demonstrated on the commentary pages of this newspaper the type of attacks we expect throughout this campaign ("Don Samuels should call off his campaign," March 22). Her article was laced with inaccuracies, mischaracterizations, half-truths and at least one big fat lie.
A well-known supporter of Omar, O'Brien went so far as to weaponize the accidental drowning of a child. His death was the most devastating day of our lives, but more importantly, of the lives of his family. For political gain, the tragedy was crudely wielded to disqualify Don's decades of service in our city's most challenging neighborhoods.
It's disappointing to see Omar's surrogates engaged in this negative and hurtful approach to politics, while Don is committed to running a campaign focused on the issues of the Fifth Congressional District. His is a collaborative and mutual approach to leadership. It is the type of leadership we have sought to exemplify through the course of our lives together. It is also the type of leadership Americans of all political stripes deserve.
This is our story:
We met at St. Paul's historic Pilgrim Baptist Church, where we both served as volunteers. After 25 years of marriage, our faith informs our lives, instructs our values and strengthens our resolve. Our faith also propels us forward in the ongoing fight to ensure equity, livability, justice and peace for all people.
After only a few dates, Sondra left to serve in the Peace Corps in Botswana and then in AmeriCorps in Philadelphia. Our relationship persevered across oceans and long distances. We traded letters, long distance calls and some of the earliest versions of e-mail. We still smile when we hear that familiar tagline, "You've got mail!"
We became engaged after just one in-person meeting over four years. After marriage we lived in St. Paul's Selby-Dale area. We then settled in north Minneapolis, where we raised three girls to adulthood. Together, we made good on a joint commitment, which Don practiced from his days as a single custodial dad to his son, to always live in the most challenged part of any neighborhood, even though we could afford to live elsewhere.
The first week in our new home, a bullet shattered the window of our soon-to-be newborn baby's room. For some, it might have been a sign to pack up and move. For us, it was a sign to organize.
With our neighbors, we held monthly block club meetings in our living room. Don also led interventions at crime hot spots and held vigils for murder victims, while demanding more government attention and resources to address painful issues that had become all too familiar in the underserved areas of north Minneapolis, including rampant violence and disinvestment in our commercial corridors. These efforts led Don to co-create the PEACE Foundation in 2003, which brought regional resources to end violence on the North Side.
Eventually, a City Council seat opened up and a special election was held. Don served through three City Council terms and one school board term. He led with honesty and integrity. Perhaps too honest at times, he was insistent that our community have strong educational outcomes, good paying jobs, safety and prospects for a better future.
Don has always maintained a focus on the politics that affect our neighborhood. But as a lifelong Democrat, he also recognized that our voices were necessary in struggles that extend well beyond our community. This includes our unwavering insistence on a woman's right to choose, despite O'Brien's labeling Don "anti-choice." Throughout Don's political career he has always been supportive of abortion rights and has rallied on behalf of LGBTQ equality.
Yes, we are Obama Democrats.
While we recognize the ways in which our country has fallen short of its promises, Don continues to believe in the Rev. Martin Luther King's dream. He believes in our powerful capacity for change and redemption. He also firmly believes change happens only when people of goodwill come together determined to create solutions. That's what we've strived to do our entire lives, and we won't be bullied into being ashamed of that work or its challenges by those who seek to misconstrue it for hollow political gains.
Don Samuels is the CEO of MicroGrants and a candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Fifth District. Sondra Samuels is a nonprofit leader in Minneapolis.