I didn’t realize he was so persistent. He almost went around and conspired against you too.
Oh, he did. He didn’t just go to [any] people; he went to the community leaders who were the elders. [Laughing] So, you know, I have the elder activists of the community calling me on the phone saying, we want you to run.
After your initial reluctance, you dove head first into politics. In 2016, you lost your first campaign for the U.S. Senate by 56 points, then you endured an assault, and then you launched your next campaign for Missouri’s first congressional district just four months later. That seems intense. Campaigns are incredibly grueling. Why not take a breather?
It was very intense. Not only was I working a full-time job, I was running a community mental health clinic that had several sites. I was taking care of my kids. When I didn’t win, it was a hard, hard blow. But I realized that just through running all over the state, I was able to make connections, hear people’s stories, and for them to hear my story.
One particular day, I had to go speak in a small town in Missouri. A message was sent to my team, tell her, don’t come. They even put it in the newspaper that I was coming there to burn down the building. I’m like, okay, you say I can’t come? That’s the place we need to go. So we went and there was a police blockade entering the town. So we got out and we walked to the place where I was supposed to give the speech. The only people of color in this packed auditorium room were the people that came with me. I gave the speech in front of this crowd that was very unwelcoming. But by the end of my speech, I had a standing ovation.
This elder white woman walked up to me and she starts to rub the back of my hand. She said I just wanted to see if it rubbed off. I knew at that moment, that it was just ignorance, and not being exposed to one another. And she said, well, Cori, you have to understand, we don’t have Black people here. Since then, they invited me back. I even went into the school system. It opened the door.
When I did lose the race three weeks later, then the sexual assault happened, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t wash clothes. It was a very difficult four months. When some folks came to me and asked me to run for the seat, I said, I don’t want to do this, you know. I’m doing therapy. I just came back to work.
But when I thought about what happened in my sexual assault case, when I thought about how I went to court four times and never even got an order of protection, let alone the guy being brought to justice, where I didn’t have any help, I realized who speaks up for victims. And I thought about my son and my daughter being the next hashtag. [I said to myself] Cori, you’re going through that right now, but you’re in therapy, so while you’re healing, you can be working to help somebody else.