Why We Run: Aimy Steele

Aimy Steele has been advocating for students in North Carolina for a decade as a teacher and school principal. After growing frustrated with the lack of resources in our schools, the lack of access to healthcare, and the disconnect between constituents and their elected representatives, Aimy decided that the best way to fight for change was to run for a seat in the North Carolina State House.

What problem would you like to solve by running for office?

Right now, not all of our voices are adequately represented in the state house. As a woman of color, I want to bring diverse voices into our state legislature by talking to constituents and making sure their voices are heard. I want to let them know that not only does their vote matter, but their voices, their suggestions and their opinions matter too. That’s one thing I specifically want to change.

Was there a specific incident that led you to run for office?

When I was a school principal, we received a lot of new legislative policies and rulings that needed to be implemented in our school. But they came with no additional funding or resources.

Once I was asked to find additional classroom space for five teachers in our school in order to comply with a new mandate to lower class sizes. I had already moved people around and had completely run out of space. So I had to create “cafetorium” classrooms in our gymnasium, library and the cafeteria. The music, art, and PE teachers had to walk around the school with a cart in order to teach their students.

When I was a Spanish teacher, I had to walk around the school with a cart — when I was pregnant for most of the year. So I didn’t want that for anybody. That was the last straw, and I said enough is enough. We have to do something different.

A precedent needs to be set that when new legislation is passed, it must come with the appropriate resources needed to implement it.

How do you get over you fear of fundraising or networking?

I’m used to asking people for money. I’ve raised money for schools and classrooms before — that really wasn’t the issue. The issue was asking people for money for me.

When you’re asking people for money for a cause, or for children, or for a family who’s down and out and needs a helping hand — that’s one thing. But when I started asking people to donate money for me and for the campaign, even though I’m not using the money for personal things, my mind would play a trick on me. I would feel like I’m asking for money for me.

I had to change my thought process around fundraising. I finally realized that the money I raise is for the children, it is for the people who are addicted to opioids, it is for people who need to benefit from a reformed criminal justice system. It’s for people who have been marginalized and whose voices have not been heard. The money will go toward making sure that all these groups have a seat at the table, through me.

Once I changed my mindset, I had no problem asking for money. Now I’m so direct that people are taken aback. They say, “Oh my gosh, did you just ask me for the maximum contribution of $5200?” I answer, “Yes actually, I did — because together, we can make a change and this is what’s gonna’ happen. So are you on board?” And they say yes! Now, it’s natural.

What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about running?

First and foremost, make sure it’s ok with your family. Then, you need to talk to someone who has been a serious candidate before — whether they won their election of not. You need to talk to someone who believes in field, door knocking, phone banking, and who believes in investing in a campaign to make it a viable. You need to talk to someone who has walked in those shoes before, and let them explicitly articulate to you what is involved in running for office.

I was not adequately informed of everything I would encounter in my race. The most mind boggling ah-ha moment was when I realized just how much money I would have to raise and how quickly I’d have to raise it. I didn’t realize that people won’t buy into giving you money unless they believe in the political process, and unless they believe in you and what you’re doing.

Now, moving forward, I would tell everyone specifically what you’ll face if you run for office, and what you need to do to have a successful campaign. In order to learn how to navigate these kinds of spaces, it’s best to talk to someone who’s been there before. That’s my number one piece of advice to anyone considering this journey.

What is on your “get pumped up to canvass” playlist?

One is “Reach” by Gloria Estefan. That’s my number one song, period — and “Reach” is also the name of my business. It’s the amazing song she sang at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, GA. It’s about reaching higher for your dreams, reaching higher for the things you want to go after. My second song is “Roar” by Katy Perry. Roar like a lion — here I come!

How have you used or worked with RFS in your race?

The Run For Something mentor space has been very helpful. Whenever someone on my staff needs help with anything — finance, marketing, PR, you name it — I can ask if Run For Something has an experienced mentor who can help. The answer is always yes! By talking directly with the RFS mentors, my staff is able to ask the questions I never would have known to ask — and they have gained really valuable wisdom.

For me, I love the Slack space. On Slack, I‘m able to log on and search for anything I need help with. For example — when I need fundraising ideas, I type in “fundraising”, and it’ll search all the messages and show me the ones that have the information I need.

The other big takeaway from RFS is that they’re so responsive. No matter what I need, no matter who I call or email, someone always responds. Everyone is so engaged, and that makes me happy.

To learn more about Aimy Steele, check out her website: https://aimysteele.com

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Recruiting & supporting young people running for office. Building a Democratic bench. Want to help? hello@runforsomething.net