Nguvu Tsare’s name means “defend your power” in Swahili and in a sense, that’s what he wants to do for the residents of Detroit.
“My name really represents my life,” he said. “That’s what my life has been about. Fighting for power for my people and defending the power that my ancestors won for me.”
Tsare said too many Detroiters are being left behind as the city undergoes a revitalization.
“In a city that’s 80-percent African American there should be no question who has the political power in the city and there is a question about that,” he said. “To be honest, I would argue that even though African Americans make up the majority of the population, they don’t have the same proportion of political, economic and social power in the city…If you want to talk about the restorative process and truly bringing Detroit back, it has to include the hard work of improving the lives of black Detroiters.”
A Lansing native and lifelong activist, Tsare first moved to Detroit 10 years ago. He said he did not until recently see himself as a politician. But after relocating to Detroit’s District 2 he felt compelled to run.
“I had no intention of ever running for office, ever, let alone this year,” he said. “Activism is my passion. But as I got to know the district a little better and began to understand the political dynamics that were getting ready to shape up, I was pissed. I was really upset because I genuinely felt there was not going to be somebody in this race who cared about me.”
But by the time Tsare changed his voter registration, it was too late to make the ballot. As a result, he will run as a write-in candidate in November’s general election. For a moment since then, Tsare questioned his run.
District 2 Deserves Better
“I was about to pull out,” he said. “I felt I had heard God tell me I need to run and then when that happened and they said I’m gonna have to run as a write-in candidate in the general, I was going to say maybe I had misheard God. But my team said ‘no, you should stay in it.’ And we figured out a way we could win and we’ve been laying the ground work for that to happen.”
Tsare describes the process as an “uphill battle.” From day one, he said, “It’s a very small window of opportunity, but as long as that window is open, I’m going to stay in the race because not only do the residents of District 2 deserve better, I deserve better and I refuse to have a representative who I genuinely don’t believe will have the best interests of my community at heart.”
Tsare is running against incumbent George Cushingberry, Jr., a longtime local politician who has been plagued by various scandals in recent years.
“I think his biggest challenge is he’s a District 2 councilperson with an at large mentality,” said Tsare. “He focuses on major macro issues. But the reason why we went to districts was to have our representatives focus on the micro issues. So that’s the kind of leadership that I’m trying to establish in District 2. A few other districts have that, but I think that’s just the challenge we have as a city because districts are new to us. So as people begin to understand what their councilperson is supposed to do as a district representative, I think you’ll start to see more people demand that from their leader.”
Tsare said he wants to represent everyone in District 2.
“I care about everyone,” he said with a particular emphasis on the transgender community, which is near and dear to him.
“A lot of people won’t talk about it, but Palmer Park is in District 2 and we have a huge problem with the criminalizing and the victimizing of transgender sex workers there. You’ll never hear another candidate talk about this. I’m the only candidate that’s talked about this because these are issues that hit home to me,” said Tsare. “Some of my best friends in life have been transgender women and I’ve seen the struggles they’ve gone through. Anyone in my district who is transgender or has a loved one who is transgender can know and believe that councilman Tsare is going to go hard for our transgender family.”
Tsare began his LBGT activism nearly a decade ago while working with Mpowerment Detroit, a community building and HIV prevention program.
“It changed my life,” he said. “I believe it’s the reason why I’m HIV negative to this day because of the education I received.”
Tsare joined and became a facilitator with Young Brothers United, an organization that reaches out to youth ages 16-24 in the black LGBT community.
“I’ve passed out probably thousands of condoms across the city of Detroit and I would like to think that I played a small part in keeping somebody healthy or keeping somebody safe in the city,” he said.
At 28 years old, Tsare is still deeply involved in doing community work, and for free. He as done mass incarceration work at former President Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He was the vice president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Black United Front and he was the director of development for New Era Detroit.
“I’ve never gotten paid,” he said. “I sometimes couldn’t pay my own bills because I wasn’t working as much. That’s the leadership that we deserve.”
One Dollar One Dream
Looking ahead, Tsare hopes to implement a revitalization program he calls One Dollar One Dream.
Small businesses can opt to let their customers add a dollar onto their purchases, he said, and that dollar will go into a District 2 account. On an annual basis the program will use the money to help residents purchase their first home or start their first business. Tsare said the program will aslo help current business owners, “who’ve invested so much into the district,” to undergo innovation projects to either increase business or scale.
“I really think we have the opportunity in Detroit to show the rest of the country this is how you bring a city back for everybody. But we’re not on that trajectory right now. And it’s going to take people like me running for these positions and instilling a culture in our political establishment that values the people who have truly stuck it out with this city from day one,” he said. “I genuinely want to see the people of my city have more and do better and receive better treatment from the people who run to represent them. And I’m in this race because I generally believe that I’m that person.”