Family Hardships Shape Jelani Gandy in Run for Atlantic County Commissioner


Jelani Gandy. Photo courtesy of Jelani Gandy.

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

LINWOOD — In Jelani Gandy’s run for Atlantic County Commissioner, one of his themes, “it’s not about me,” was born not only from desire to put local residents first, but also from his own recent family hardships.

Gandy lost his father, Dempsey Gandy, last year, then uncle Jerome Grandy of Deliverance of Truth Holiness Church in Buena Vista, and older brother Titus Gandy this year.

“Throughout the back-to-back losses in my life in such a short period of time, the memories and lessons they taught me will last forever,” said Gandy, 22, a May graduate of Stockton University. “One thing my brother left me is the message of ‘it’s not about me.’

“While we would travel to and from the hospital to see my dad, we would talk about how difficult it would be to see our father in that condition. He would remind me that it ‘wasn’t about me.’ I use that message to motivate myself even more because this campaign isn’t just about me. It’s about the working families of Atlantic County who deserve better.”

COVID-19 and Healthcare

As a Democrat, Gandy, 22, will be running for the seat currently held by Republican Maureen Kern. His uncle, Jerome Gandy, died from the coronavirus, which has exposed the country to long-lingering inequities in the U.S. healthcare system.

“Losing a loved one from COVID-19 forces you to confront the reality that America has deep-rooted issues within its healthcare system,” Gandy recently told Front Runner New Jersey. “Thankfully, my uncle did have access to healthcare; however, his experience does not resemble the reality that many Americans faced throughout the pandemic.

“In addition to the lack of affordable healthcare, many cannot afford to take days off of work, for their paychecks are the only source of income keeping their families afloat financially. We need to make healthcare easily accessible and affordable so that families in Atlantic County, regardless of their income, can receive medical treatment without having to make financial sacrifices in other areas, such as food, shelter, electricity, internet, or any other basic necessity,” he said.

‘Eye-Opening Experience’

Gandy was part of Amy Kennedy’s Congressional campaign in District 2 that fell just short of ousting Republican incumbent Jeff Van Drew last fall. Gandy called it an “eye-opening experience” into politics.

Jelani Gandy speaks at his recent campaign kick off event. Photo courtesy of Jelani Gandy.

“The campaign motivated me to get more involved in my community, for I was able to see firsthand how impactful it was for the community to feel as though their voices mattered,” Gandy said. “It also encouraged me to get involved in county government because I learned that the most impact in our everyday life comes not from the top of the ballot, but at the bottom.”

Gandy graduated with a degree in political science, driven by his passion for wanting to make a difference in his community through civics.

“Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, my late father always made a concerted effort to keep me educated and informed as to what was going on in the world and how it impacts those around me,” Gandy said.

Community-Shaped Views

Gandy has lived in Linwood for the past 20 years, graduating from Mainland Regional High School in 2017. He said his love for community and family impacted his decision to pursue a political science degree.

“My grandfather on my late father’s side was a pastor, and he was able to impact people’s lives through faith, while my grandfather on my mother’s side was a small business owner who paved the way for many entrepreneurs,” Gandy said. “Having lived in Linwood my entire life, I have learned a great deal from the members of my local community. 

Jelani Gandy and campaign volunteers handing out water along the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Photo courtesy of Jelani Gandy.

“Linwood is unique for its enthusiasm for education and its dedication towards producing successful learning outcomes, and I am eternally grateful to have received an education from a district whose faculty sought to provide me with the opportunity to succeed as well as the ability to think critically and form individualized opinions,” he added.

Gandy said that being exposed to the vast array of opinions in his hometown helped shape his political beliefs.

‘Similar Problems’

“Over time, I have come to realize that most members of our community deal with similar problems,” Gandy said. “One issue that has come to the forefront of public discussion refers to the growing lack of trust in our politicians, paired with the belief that the government does not have their best interest in mind.

“Atlantic County residents and Americans across the country have seen their wages decrease as the cost of living has risen. As a result, people are feeling desperate and are losing hope in their elected officials, a trend which must be reversed if we are to begin restoring the community’s faith in government,” he continued.

Gandy was a founding member of the NAACP Stockton University chapter, where he worked to raise awareness for racial equity and justice issues on campus.

Jelani Gandy on the campaign trail. Photo courtesy of Jelani Gandy.

“The primary tenets that I advocated for were economic development for African Americans and reforming the criminal justice system. For over a hundred years, the NAACP has led the undertaking to achieve equity and justice for Black Americans and I am proud to be a part of that.”

Staying Positive

As a young African American male, Gandy said there is always the challenge of perception, one he said he is comfortable with taking head on.

“Regardless of whether or not you are pursuing public office, as a Black male, there is always the sense that you are being judged more critically and that you have to perform twice as well as a white counterpart,” Gandy said.

Jelani Gandy supporting local Black owned Ms. G’s Icies. at the fourth annual Juneteenth Cookout at Oscar McClinton Park in Atlantic City. Photo courtesy of Jelani Gandy.

“I also believe that there are a number of inspiring African American role models, who have influenced me, though many are not highlighted. Nonetheless, I believe that as a county commissioner, it would be a responsibility to put to rest any negative imagery there may be in regard to younger Black men,” he added.

Gandy said his father continues to be his primary inspiration for his community involvement.

“He was a selfless individual, and always put the needs of those around him before his own,” Gandy said. “Throughout my childhood, he would take me to Atlantic City so that we could spend the day helping the homeless in whatever way possible, such as handing out food and water bottles and participating in clothes drives. He has always been an exemplary role model, and I can only hope to be as good of a father as he was.”

Gandy said he hopes his campaign will resonate with people from all walks of life because their dreams, aspirations, concerns and goals are all intertwined and that coming together can be a powerful weapon in getting things done in the community.

“From the beginning of this campaign I have held one simple belief: no matter where you come from, what you look like, or what your political ideology is, everyday-Americans; and more specifically working families in Atlantic County; are not looking for handouts and government assistance to solve all their problems,” Gandy said.

“People are looking for results, and they hope to find them in the people they elect for public office. I have had the chance as the state director of United Rural Democrats and as a candidate to talk to people from very different backgrounds, and they all come to the same conclusion: career politicians are giving them old solutions to new problems.

“If the people of District 2 of Atlantic County give me the opportunity to serve on the Board of Commissioners, I will never stop working to improve the lives of those in my community, and I will put forth a concerted effort to innovate Atlantic County,” he said.

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