The TRiiBE sat down with the 2023 Black mayoral candidates to learn more about their political views. Read their Q&A profiles here. Visit The TRiiBE Election Center to learn more about the Chicago municipal election taking place on Feb. 28.

Ja’Mal Green is going to be seen and heard. A familiar face at protests seeking justice for Laquan McDonald and other victims of police violence, a 21-year-old Green made national headlines in 2017 when he told an MSNBC Townhall audience that former Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not care about Black people.

Today, he continues to confront politicians head-on; during recent candidate forums, he’s called out opponents for holding office for years but not acting urgently to heal community trauma and improve conditions for Black and brown youth. 

On Jan. 3, Green invited The TRiiBE to his campaign headquarters off 87th and Halsted in Auburn Gresham. Covered with “Ja’Mal Green for Mayor” signs, with a coach campaign bus parked outside, his HQ, formerly a Chase Bank, stands out in an otherwise dilapidated strip mall. To get inside the HQ teeming with volunteers, Green’s children among them, we had to present photo IDs.

During our interview, Green did not back down from his longtime views about policing. 

“We will not be investing more money into increasing police in this city. That is not how you solve violence,” he said. In his public safety plan, Green calls for police reform that makes “policing more attractive.”

He shared ideas about creating a city-owned public bank that would give residents the power to invest back into their communities. The bank’s priorities would be affordable housing, home ownership, new development and small business lending. 

He also wants to cut violence in half, create 10,000 new homeowners and launch “universal 3K,” or preschool for children as young as three. 

However, without any executive political experience, some Chicago voters wonder how Green, the youngest candidate in the race, will bring his lofty ideas to fruition. 

Also, he’s been linked to some controversy in recent years. In 2021, he circulated rumors on social media about Lightfoot resigning. He tweeted: “Lori Lightfoot is resigning tomorrow in a stunning end to her mayorship.” He later issued an apology, and the tweet has since been deleted.

When Black, queer, women-led liberation organizers in Chicago such as BYP 100, Assata’s Daughters and Let Us Breathe Collective were voicing their opposition to Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign because of her affiliation with the police board, Green endorsed her. He said he advised her on the Youth Commission and during the COVID-19 pandemic, but then the two began to clash. In 2021 he called Lightfoot out for blocking his effort to turn the Emanuel-shuttered Garrett Morgan Elementary School in Auburn-Gresham into a $15 million youth center.

And in December 2022, a years-long feud between Green and opponent Willie Wilson’s camp boiled over when audio recording allegedly between Wilson political consultant Rickey Hendon and Green campaign volunteer Kevin Hobby leaked on social media, detailing a bribe for Green’s team to drop the petition challenge against Wilson. In 2019, Hendon challenged Green’s petition signatures and Green dropped out of the race. 

Read our full interview with Green, as part of our 2023 Before the Polls mayoral candidate interview series.

(The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Quick jump

1 Background

The TRiiBE: Chicago millennials defied expectations in the 2022 midterm elections as the second-largest voting bloc. In 2012, Black Chicago millennials, following the police murder of Rekia Boyd, also laid the groundwork for the emerging Black liberation movement. You were part of the organizing community that sought justice for Laquan McDonald. Why is Chicago ready for millennial leadership at the mayoral level?

Ja’Mal Green: Chicagoans have seen that the city's politics have not worked and are not in the best interests of everyday working-class people. We are now in a pivotal time where the young generation is hopeless. Young people are dying, committing acts of violence or being caught doing carjackings. Some are trying to raise families in Chicago. 

There's just no type of hope right now. Families all across the city, they're leaving. Businesses are leaving. Chicago is willing to take a chance on someone who has a plan, cares about everyday citizens, is younger and will bring forth innovative ideas. 

One of the biggest things in this race is that Chicago is ready for change. They've yet to get the results they've needed for so long. They haven't felt safe for so long. [Elected officials have] made promises they didn't keep and, [Chicago residents] are ready to try something new.

You grew up on both the South and West sides. How did each side of town shape your politics and outlook on life?

I grew up in Gresham. It’s been my home for all my life. The first block that I lived on was 86th and Union. Those were homeowners who cared about the block and every young person on the block.

I had Mr. Riley, who just recently died, who would give me a dollar for every “A” I had, and we had a village. Looking back at all the other places I’ve lived, there’s no other block like that. So that gave me a foundation that showed me what a village looks like and how people can come together and love on each other and look after each other and look after each other's kids.

My dad was in K-town. I’d visit him for long-term stays and on weekends. I saw the differences on each side of the city, where communities didn’t have the resources they needed, where folks were suffering and needed mental health services, or they lacked a home, or some were engaging in some type of criminal activity because they don't have an alternative. Everything I've seen in these neighborhoods made me the person I am today to know that we need more of a people-centered approach to politics.

Why are you entering the Chicago mayoral race for a second consecutive time? Why not start smaller and run for a seat on the Chicago City Council?

No city council member's ever been elected mayor of the city of Chicago. So the second piece of that is the vision, and the agenda that needs to be moved forward in our city needs to be moved forward at the top, and that's why I'm running for mayor.

I’m not looking to be a career politician and go seat to seat. I’m looking to make the impact that I need to make on a large scale and then move out of the way, pass the torch, and inspire another generation to step up. I ran for mayor last time and withdrew before the ballot.

This is technically my first run because I'm actually on the ballot. We didn't have the infrastructure that we needed [back] then. This time we have a lot of support throughout the city. My name recognition is very high throughout the city. The dozens of businesses and thousands of people who have helped power this campaign have been amazing. So I decided to jump in this time because I was called and because folks want a new voice, a young voice representing all of Chicago.

The rumor mill, or just the streets, said that you were hoping to get a position within Lightfoot’s administration last time.

No. I would never work for an administration. Because I don't need to. I have many businesses, and it would be a conflict for me. So with Lori, I advised her when she asked and helped with policies until we just couldn't get along.

Is there something specific that you can name that you were helping or advising?

Yes. The Youth Commission. I did a little series with her online through the pandemic early on to help her talk about COVID-19. The videos had about 100,000 views online and they did well.

So I tried to help humanize her and get her to come left to real policies that made sense. But Lori is Lori. At the end of the day, I recognize why we didn’t like each other for six years before that. I just tried to say I want the city to be better, and I’m not asking you for anything. I don’t need the money. I don’t need anything. I don’t need a job. I want these policies so that these young people have the spaces and pathways to be productive.
I couldn’t achieve that with her and this administration, so I’m running to make it happen.

2 Safety & Policing

Young Black and brown children are sometimes forgotten when discussing gun violence. You're typically vocal about gun violence, especially when it impacts children. How will you invest in safety? And are there ways outside of policing that you will invest in safety? Can you describe what that will look like?

Today, we released a $5 billion plan. That is called EPIC: Economic Prosperity Prevention, Intervention, and CPD reform. Our program's basis is to ensure that we create thriving neighborhoods where we invest in young people and where CPD is a support system and not an oppressive force. We will not be investing more money into increasing police in this city. That is not how you solve violence. 

We will take a holistic approach and do things the right way. So when you talk about economic prosperity, our lucky number is 10,000. We want to create 10,000 new homeowners by instituting single-family mortgage bonds and back-home loans on a city level each year so that we can repopulate neighborhoods. So, folks who are in or have left those neighborhoods and have roots, whether they move to the suburbs or other cities, we incentivize them to come back by backing their loan, giving them a down payment and closing cost assistance.

I would love to circle back to that because I have questions about affordable housing and renting.

So one of the pieces is called Chicago PPP: Prosperity Push Pilot. Essentially, what it is, is that we're going to have a direct cash assistance program, where we're going to give $1,000 a month to 10,000 families each year to push them out of poverty.

Participants of this program will all be required to take a financial literacy class. Then they'll also have 90 days after the start of payments to do one of four things: obtain housing, educational enrollment, substance abuse treatment, or secure a job opportunity. They will do one of those four things. After that, they can continue getting cash assistance for the year. 

We will evaluate them that year, and they can reapply for a second and final year. With this $150 million program, it is important to give the foundation to people who need it and push them out of poverty. Many studies have shown that in providing direct cash to folks living in hard times, most of that money is spent on their basic needs, whether it be housing, food, etc.

You’ve said that you want Chicago taxpayers to stop footing the bill for police misconduct lawsuits. You also mentioned wanting police officers to have insurance. Is that still the case?

That's still the case. We're still vetting it and figuring out how to implement it. We are not going to continue paying $100 million for police misconduct. It's not going to happen under my watch, and it will be a priority of my administration to implement and pass a plan so that that bill goes to someone else.

It should go on behalf of the police. If they have liability insurance, insurance companies can assess the liability on whether they are a risk based on their complaints. So if they get million-dollar insurance cases, that company will drop them. If they don’t have insurance, they can’t be police officers on the streets of Chicago. 

Why should we continue to allow police officers to rack up millions of dollars in settlements, and there’s no accountability? Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan 16 times. But before that case, he had already six-figure settlements of cases in which he acted improperly.

We got to start holding them accountable. We’re also going to fine officers up to $5,000 if [they] turn off their body cameras or have improper use of equipment. 

We will have zero tolerance for police officers affiliating with hate groups.

We will implement an app where folks can rate their interactions with police officers. Suppose you have an interaction with the police. In that case, you’ll be able to rate the police officer, as well as upload data in real-time [to] have evidence of a case. They can go to an investigative agency to be able to look at it, and we can reward police officers who get good interactions [from] the community too.

On the other hand, we’re also going to help police officers on the force. Suicides are at an all-time high. We’re going to increase the number of therapists per police district, and we’re going to change our work schedule to a four- or three-day work weeks with one mental health day in between so that we can start to get control of the suicide rates in the police department.

3 Mental Health

On your website, you mentioned wanting to create healing houses where those suffering from mental health issues can find refuge. And you also just alluded to having a trained social worker be sent to homes to de-escalate in non-emergency situations. That sounds similar to Treatment Not Trauma. Do you support that?

We will pass Treatment Not Trauma. We need to reopen the mental health facilities that Rahm Emanuel shut down.

What is your plan for that?

We plan to reopen clinics and find the best places throughout the communities to open wellness centers that use a holistic approach to mental health. It will be an institution where you can get counseling services, yoga, boxing, karate, massage therapy and spa treatment.

We need to invest in that so that people all over the city, whether it be young people, police or whoever, can look at this institution as a place where they can wind down. Our innovative idea is to take what they are doing and expand it to an institution that everyone would want to go to.

Ja'Mal Green // Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiIBE

4 Youth & Education

As a millennial, you seem more connected to Black and brown youth in Chicago in ways that the other campaigns aren't, primarily through your work and Majostee All Stars. Why is supporting and uplifting the voices of young people in Chicago important to you, and is that a commitment you'll maintain if elected mayor?

One of the things that I did get this mayor to do was pass my idea to have the first-ever Youth Commission in the city to advise the mayor's office. It’s super important for young voices to be heard. I was young once. I can remember people saying you're young, and you need to stay in your place or your voice doesn't matter. 

So that's why it's important for me to make sure that we invest in young people and make sure that we remove the barriers. Our leaders have constantly held on to the power and money; essentially, they're waiting to die. Then when they die, what's the next plan? Because they don't train up the next generation, they don't put young people in positions of power. They don't invest in young people. They just want us to keep voting for them until they're 100. That's not fair. That's not how that goes. That's not how that should be. Young people need the opportunity to fill seats to grow and thrive, and so that's my commitment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted already existing disparities in Black and brown schools. What initiatives or policies will you implement to invest in neighborhood elementary and high schools? So Black and brown children won't have to leave their communities to attend school.

The quality of education should be determined by the median income of the neighborhood. One of the biggest problems of our city is that we’ve got a selective enrollment school system.We got an enrollment-based formula in the state and disinvested communities. Therefore, you have disinvested schools. I went to many public schools and had challenges. I was one of the brightest kids in every school, and I also had difficulties with my behavior. I displayed certain behaviors that schools weren't equipped to address or equipped to give me the attention that I needed.

What happens in the district is that if you have a kid with challenges, they will write an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and try to get some medicine or something.  

So there’s no real holistic approach. Young people from these neighborhoods who are going through so much trauma, who have so much pain, who could be homeless and hungry, walk into a school building and be expected to learn two-plus-two without the proper curriculum, books or technology. We’re failing young people each and every day in Chicago Public Schools. 

We need to ensure that we’re pushing the state legislature to change the formula for public schools. It must be needs-based. We want to invest in making sure that trade and tech hubs are in schools all across the city. We need alternatives for young people and make sure that they’re learning skills and different career fields that they can go down. 

We need to be investing in young people starting early. So we’re presenting a plan for pre-K to ensure that there are programs and public schools throughout the city where kids as young as three years old can start learning before they even go on to pre-K that’ll make them smarter and stimulate their minds. It’s a good thing for single mothers who are looking for childcare and want to work.

We need to teach these young people early so they can have the skills they need to be the best they can be when they get older. Universal 3K is a plan that we want to implement as well.

Young people in Chicago have very few places to gather safely and socialize. How do you suggest that we non-punitively support youth within and outside CPS?

We need to invest in safe spaces. There are a lot of people around the city that are doing good work with young people. We don't need to reinvent the wheel and be the driving force behind everything. We need to look at where the folks doing the work are and go to them and say, “how can you expand? How much do you need to expand?” So that we can have real safe spaces where young people can grow and thrive. So we will allocate a lot of money to create safe spaces for young people in our communities.

Are you familiar with GoodKid MadCity’s Peace Book ordinance?  If so, does supporting that ordinance align with your commitment to Chicago’s youth?

Yes, I mentored many young people involved in GoodKid MadCity’s Peace Book over the years. They put together a good plan.

I’m sure there are some tweaks that we’ll be able to tweak and make better. The point is there is an organization of young people who come forward and say, “here’s a plan,” especially those young people putting their lives on the line daily and being on the front lines. They need a voice, right? So bring them to the table, hear the plan, and see how we can strengthen that plan, work together and create something that will work.

5 Housing & Community

In your campaign video, you announced wanting to support and expand homeownership. Earlier in our conversation, you talked about wanting to get 10,000 or more new homeowners over time. You have an existing framework or initiative that you created through My Turn to Own. Is that a model you believe can be used on a larger scale? Why or why not?

So My Turn to Own is an organization that teaches people how to become homeowners, gives them the financial literacy they need. Then, after putting them through the process and getting them to own a home, we also teach them how to maintain that home in the process, too. 

This is super important because we will be backing home loans on a large scale. You got people in communities who don't even know their credit scores and don't even know how to qualify because they've been renting for so many decades that it's never been on their radar. So that will be a key piece of our administration to expand something like that city-wide.

A lot of our readers are renters. What initiatives will you implement to protect people from displacement and support people experiencing homelessness?

We’ve got to increase the affordable housing supply. It makes no sense that we can’t even build 2,500 affordable housing units a year.  We will give tax subsidies to big box stores, churches, banks and folks who own big buildings to build affordable housing units. We will incentivize folks to build on top of any single-floor space or a single-floor building. 

The Public Bank is another big piece that I talk about a lot. We will create our own economic engine by having a public bank that invests in home loans, affordable houses and small businesses. That profit from the bank goes right back to city services.

So we're going to build income-based housing in the city of Chicago, and the public sector is going to have a lot of control over those rents. Then, as part of incentivizing those affordable housing units, we're also going to make sure that there are criteria in place and caps for those prices for those units they're building. 

I'm a big supporter of community benefits agreements for those private developers who are building. We can't wait on a private developer to come into the neighborhood to build affordable housing units.

Do you support the Bring Chicago Home proposal?

Yes. I support Bring Chicago Home's proposal to have a dedicated funding stream for homelessness and affordable housing. Yes.

6 Accountability

Earlier in the conversation, you mentioned who you're accountable to. We've witnessed mayoral candidates of the past co-opt progressive and abolitionist language and make big promises to Black Chicagoans while campaigning, only to renege on those promises when in office. If elected, how can Black Chicagoans hold you accountable for the policies you promised them while campaigning?

We'll put different things in place to allow organizers to have a seat at the table. For example, we're looking at a commission, some sort of powerbroker, where organizers from labor and folks on the front lines can have a large voice in the mayor's office. 

That's key to me. We expect to be held accountable for everything we say. I'm running on my track record. I'm the only one with a track record of doing all these things. 

When you get into government, things can change. That's why people don't trust politicians. I'm trying to change that. I want the trust of Chicagoans, and so everything that I say, I'm going to put forth the best effort to do so. We're looking at ways to allow folks to hold us accountable easily. This is a word game, and I'm giving Chicagoans my word.


is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.