Mary-Pat Hector let all of Atlanta know about her dedication to the cause for her people, and her prodigious personal tenacity, when she ran for public office at the age of 19 in the new DeKalb County city of Stonecrest.
Mary-Pat was born in Atlanta, and her love for action and her ability to “take it to the street” was fed and cultivated from the activism that most militant minded students get from just being in the city of Atlanta and among the political happenings in the Atlanta University Center. She came on to the national scene when she was discovered by Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN). Founded by Sharpton, NAN is an organization that promotes a modern civil rights agenda that fights for equality for all people regardless of race or gender.
Graduating from Spelman College at 21 years and being in the mix of student politics, Mary-Pat knew she had to do something to help change the status-quo and make a better world for her people. She had an idea as to how to change the world around her – and so she grew a community service project into a non-profit – the Youth in Action USA – which she started at the age of 12.
Just Do it! At the tender age of 19, Mary-Pat answered the call to do it. She was the youngest woman and person of color to run for public office in the state of Georgia, losing her campaign to capture the seat as city councilperson in the city of Stonecrest by only 22 votes.
And now, Mary-Pat serves as the National Youth Director for National Action Network; one of this country’s largest Civil Rights organizations. Through her duties at NAN, she has led and organized hunger strikes that gained more than 60,000 meals for students at HBCU’s, developing an initiative to end student hunger on college campuses. She has organized rallies to end police violence in communities of color and, developed youth entrepreneurship programming that assisted hundreds of young people to kickstart licensed businesses.
One of her proudest accomplishments is becoming a Fellow of Peace First. She was awarded the $50,000 fellowship for her national project “Think Twice” a national campaign that educates youth on non-violence and other issues crippling her generation. Her national initiative provides teen-safety workshops for schools, trains teens and college students in many areas of youth advocacy techniques. Not content to rest on her accomplishments, Mary-Pat continues to speak at high schools, colleges, conferences, women’s events, and crisis shelters across the U.S.
In addition to her duties at NAN, Mary-Pat served as a youth leader for Usher’s New Look Foundation. She delivers keynote presentations calling for teen activism; her story inspires; her how-to strategies give young people their own road map for changing the world.
“We’ve all Diddy-bopped in the mirror to Michael Jackson’s classic Man in the Mirror, ending our lip-synch routine with the whisper “make that change,” dramatically mimicking the great himself. But how many of us have dropped the act and made that change?” says Mary-Pat.
Mary-Pat Hector was not even born when the Man in the Mirror released his hit single. But “children should be seen and not heard” was a saying that Hector, of Lithonia, Georgia, could never quite get her head around. She was 11 when she began her commitment to spark some change. Eventually, she launched her campaign the city council seat in Stonecrest, a newly incorporated city in DeKalb County, making her the youngest candidate on a city council ballot in Georgia’s state history. Less than six months old, Stonecrest (population: 50,000) was one of eight new cities incorporated in the Atlanta area in the past decade, three of these cities have been created since 2008.
Hector’s candidacy, however, was not met with unanimous support. On Jan. 23, George Turner Jr., one of Hector’s opponents in the race, wrote a letter challenging her eligibility to run. The letter, addressed to Voter Registration and Elections’ Director H. Maxine Daniels, questioned Hector’s eligibility based on her age. The letter read in part, “My research revealed that in order to hold office for commissioner or city council, one must be 21 years of age, unless the charter specifically makes an exception. There is no such exception mentioned in the charter for the city of Stonecrest. Therefore, any candidate who has not attained age of 21 is not qualified to serve on City Council in the city of Stonecrest.”
Following the letter, Hector received support from several public officials, including Atlanta city councilman Kwanza Hall and Clarkston Mayor Edward Terry. The Board of Registration and Elections held a hearing, and members ultimately made an exception that Hector’s age would not keep her off the ballot.
“Justice was served, and the law prevailed,” Hector said in a statement on AJC.com. “The board’s decision is a testament to the inclusion of the next generation’s participation in the democratic process. I look forward to continuing my campaign and serving as the first council member for the fourth district of the city of Stonecrest.”
Although Hector is young, she’s not new to politics or activism. Youth in Action USA, (founded by Hector) remains one of the nation’s fastest-growing nonprofit organizations. It aims to mobilize teenagers and college-age citizens to create social change and solve problems in their communities. She continued her work in public service and became the national youth director for the National Action Network (NAN). Her resume boasts her positions as youth leader for Millennials for Hillary (Clinton) Victory Council, youth board member for Cities United, southeast regional organizer for Generation Progress, and founder of Think Twice Campaign.
Hector was recognized and awarded for her community service efforts by President Barack Obama. During her first year at Spelman, Hector led an effort to address the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She and about twenty Atlanta-area college students went door to door delivering more than 12,000 bottles of water to residents. In addition, Hector received the Power Woman award from the National Action Network convention; the Drum Major of Justice award from the SCLC Women; the Essence 365 Black award from McDonald’s. Mary-Pat was selected as Ebony Magazine’s Power 100; Atlanta’s AJC named her as one of Georgia’s Home Town Heroes. She was also winner of 21st Century 20 under 20 Leader 2013, Mary-Pat was named Activist of the Year from the 100 Black Men of America 2013, Winner of the Peace Prize Awarded Philanthropist of the year from Hearts to Hearts where her national Campaign, Think Twice, won 50 thousand dollars in 2013; Black Girls Rock M.A.D (Making A Difference) Girl winner 2013; National winner for Kohl’s Kids Who Care. 2014 Porsche Driving Force of the year award; 2014 Delta Sigma Theta Youth Leader of the Year; 2014 AKA Sorority, 83rd North Atlantic Emerging Leader Award; 2014 Usher New Look, Global Youth Award 2015 Empower Magazine, Youth of the Year Award, 2015 Youth Advocate of the year Women’s Council of the Empire Board of Realist, 2016 Young Women of Impact Award from Off the Field Players’ Wives Association; 2016 Atlanta Magazine Women Making A Difference Award 2016. She was named one of Atlanta’s most Influential women 2016 by Atlanta Business League; 2016 Women Inspiring Women Award; National Council of Negro Women Youth Award. King Center’s 2017 Salute To Greatness Gala, Coretta Scott King ANGEL Award.
What made Mary-Pat Hector develop into such a leader? Her parents must have had something to do with the process; possibly a teacher caught her spirit and encouraged her. I am sure that the almighty was in her spirit.