by Catherine Brinkman

Sol Flores never aspired to hold public office however, it appears public office had other plans.

Sitting Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, who represents Illinois’s 4th Congressional District, announced that he would not be seeking re-election 4 days prior to the candidate’s filing deadline last November. It was clearly a strategic move to allow an anointed candidate to slide in under the radar.

Then Sol Flores received a call asking her to run against Gutiérrez’s pick. She agreed to run and in four days over 200 family, friends and colleagues rallied together collecting the 5,000 signatures needed to get Flores on the March 20th primary ballot.

Running an inaugural political campaign against the anointed candidate within Chicago’s political machine shows Sol’s true conviction to be a strong voice and elevated her reach to improve the lives of Chicagoans.

As the political field continues to narrow with two candidates dropping out of the race on January 30th, the campaign is about to kick into high gear. A few days ago, Moxye was able to speak with Sol about her campaign.

Thinking back, how old were you when you thought “I can make a difference?”

My Mom volunteered, and she would take me with her. When I was 7 or 8, Mom signed up to connect with an elderly person and we would visit her weekly. Margaret was the woman we would visit. She lived in a senior community and I didn’t really like how the building smelled. But my Mom had me go with her every week. A couple of months after going, Margaret gave me a huge hug and said that she didn’t have any granddaughters however, if she could have one she’d like it to be me. It was like a page turned in a book and I got it. It wasn’t about just doing something because you had to, it was about genuinely helping other people.

What was the first community-based organization you participated in?

When I was 13 I was a part of NOW’s Jr. program. Me and three of my friends talked our parents into letting us take a bus to Washington, D.C. to march on the mall for reproductive rights.

At 13-years old, you talked your Mom into letting you take a bus from Chicago to DC with your friends?

Yes. We took the bus there, marched and took the bus back home. You have to speak up for what you care about.

Speaking up for what you care about has been a long-standing attribute. Why did you start La Casa Norte?

I worked at PricewaterhouseCooper for two years as a consultant. When I walked into meetings people thought I was the admin or the coffee girl. I was usually the only woman in the room and “definitely” the only woman of color, I was often the only person of color in the room. After 9-11 I was laid off.

I was at a community meeting a little while after the layoff and had an opportunity to meet two guys that wanted to start a homeless shelter for youth. I worked with them and about a month after I started they asked if I wanted to be the founding Executive Director of the shelter. When La Casa Norte opened it was me and a social worker that I hired. I was terrified that people wouldn’t come.

But you kept going.

Yes. Today we are Chicago’s largest provider for homeless youth. We also work with Latino families that are experiencing homelessness. It’s been very humbling. When people come in to talk about their trauma or crisis they are so vulnerable. But, they show up and tell you about it and ask for help.

La Casa Norte has been helping people for nearly 16 years. What has allowed it to thrive thus far?

Being able to see results helps La Casa Norte be a place that thrives. There was nothing before we built the shelter. There wasn’t a healthcare facility and now we have one, there wasn’t a food pantry and now we have one.

Being able to educate the public has helped me thrive, e.g. not all homeless individuals are criminals. There are a lot of community stake holders I touch to affect change. It gives me gusto to bring a family to City Hall to help them receive the care they need.

When you were asked to consider running for Congress what went through your mind?

I can now work on policy!

75% of my decision was I could elevate and work with others to make greater change.

25% of my decision was equity. Equity is key at every level. How many times have I been the only woman? Especially the only woman of color or the only person of color? I have to cover a lot in this 5’ body. I bust my butt everyday to help others. Serving in Congress gives me a chance to affect even more people.

The time frame that you had to get into the race was, well it was 96 hours. As someone that has been around the political block a few times, I’ve never hear of anyone pulling off 5K signatures in four days. Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, how did you do that?                                                              

I used social media to launch my initial strategy outreach. A little over 200 people came out. Ex-boyfriends came out. Interns from La Casa from a decade ago came out. Friends from college and high school came out. Some donors from La Casa came from 20-30 miles away to help. The LBGTQ community was all about it. It was such a ground swell.

Every individual knows that I’m cut from their cloth. I’ve treated people fairly and with a lot of dignity. I live by the golden rule: If you think about Karma that is what it was.

What issues are closest to you?

Homelessness! We need affordable health care for homeless individuals. Without health care you are not able to thrive, individuals with health care achieve much more.

Affordable housing is important. If a Mom doesn’t have to pay 70-80% of her income on rent, she can afford fresh food and vegetables. She can afford afternoon programs or dance class for her children. The current medication money vs. rent money needs to stop.

We need a living wage- people want to work! I have never met anyone that said ‘I don’t want to work.

Immigration reform is very personal. In my early 20s my Mom married a man from Ecuador and he became a naturalized citizen, he brought his daughter, my step sister to live in the United States; our family was unified again. I was there when she took her Oath of Citizenship because of family unification. When we strengthen the family, the community is safer.

The current political climate is rough. Why do you think so many women are running this midterm election cycle?

It’s because of what happened in the 2016 election. With Hillary’s loss, along with everything else this past year. Everything is rising to the surface. The worst kept secrets are rising to the surface. The flirting. The tight hugs. Inappropriate comments from our male counterparts in high level positions, “You are so pretty” or “Such a pretty smile.” They would never say that to a man. Also, women are pissed off about the policies coming out of the White House, more women started to speak up; women are really pissed off.

Yep. It’s like the last 40 years of Women’s Rights didn’t happen. But the good news is there are more women than ever before running for office this cycle. You received an endorsement from EMILY’S List. It’s a big deal. What did it mean to you to receive that endorsement?

As late as the 1980s it was abysmal how many women were elected. EMILY’S List became the first organization to help women consider and prepare to run for office. EMILY stands for Early Money Is Like Yeast. Meaning give a campaign enough dough it will rise. The organization supports democratic women that are pro-choice running for office.

When I have those moments where I think ‘can I raise my hand? Can I run?’ that is where the support of EMILY’S List helps me. There are over 370 women running for Congress right now.

When you get to Washington what is the first thing you will do?

Develop relationships. I am from the congressional 4th district in Chicago, I don’t know everything. But I know there are 2.5 million homeless kids in America and other people are working to fix this problem in their districts. I want to develop deep and meaningful relationships, so I can find commonalities and build bridges.

What else should people know about you and your campaign?

I never shy away from a challenge. I am a survivor. I survived sexual abuse and I know what it means to grow up with a single Mom. I missed having a Dad. I had to survive in a place where no one looked like me.

I am tenacious. Someone who will get it done. There are issues that Republicans care about. I will look for the common ground and be a facilitator to get people to take off their ideology hat. I want to ask “Have you ever met a homeless person? Have you known someone with mental illness? I am not trying to make you feel bad. I would love to introduce you to someone that is homeless.” I want to create that opportunity and have the capacity to do that.

Thank you. I know you have to go.

Wait. You didn’t ask me what I do for fun.

You’re right. Let me fix it. Sol, what do you do for fun?

I like to hang out with my family. I have a nine and a half year old niece that is Blackarican. When I told her I was going to run for Congress she asked what she can do to get her classmates to vote for me.

In an urban setting, she is what people look like. I want to get it to the place where she sees people that look like her in office.

You can learn more about Sol’s campaign at https://www.standwithsol.org/ and follow her @standwithsol on Twitter. If you are in the state of Illinois, March 20th is Primary Election Day.

About the writer: Catherine Brinkman has a sales career spanning 2 decades. She has won numerous awards including Rookie of the Year and Silver Sales Associate for Dale Carnegie, a global training company. In early 2016, Catherine started her own consulting business, partnering with sales and marketing teams to increase revenue. She works with everyone from Silicon Valley giants to small startups. She has a fun, comic approach to her consulting, having studied satirical writing at The Second City. She can be found at cb@bhyconsulting.com and on Twitter @catbrinkman

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