What happens when you mix a conversation about travel, religion, and policy with a community activist turned politician who grants you permission to ask anything you want? You get a candid discussion with the freedom to explore some uncomfortable topics.
“I’m a different type of politician. I really don’t like to subscribe to that name. I’m a different type of person. Nothing makes me uncomfortable.”
~ Senator Nelson
St. Croix’s first Rastafarian Senator Terrence “Positive” Nelson spoke with Griots Republic and shared laughs, expressed his concerns and gave our readers a glimpse into the political life on the seemingly utopic island of St. Croix.
Griots Republic (GR): You’ve stated, “positive is how I live” and that this is your “non-secular way to bring people to live righteously.” How does this play out? How does this effect how you govern?
Senator Nelson (SN): It plays out for me. I have adopted this mantra. I had to ask myself what type of legacy I wanted to leave on the world. I chose God. I chose positive. I realize however, when talking to people about religion it always gets fuzzy because of the formations of religion of the world. I find that when you can sort of erase all that dogma you can just bring it down to just righteous behavior so I coined the phrase righteous is how I live. It’s a trademark. No matter what your situation or how hard a situation is you can turn your life around. You can always look forward to a brighter future. It’s all about perspective. In politics, this helps me when we run into points where I can’t seem to get support from colleagues. The term positive is how I live keeps me from getting discouraged.
GR: I have a follow up question for clarity. So, it speaks to your perspective when governing and doesn’t necessarily shape the types of policies you are in favor of?
SN: It shapes how I govern and the types of policies because the outcome must be for the greater good. The policies can’t be just about benefiting a certain business. I want to try to impact those who need the most help.
GR: I hear you. I really do. But to be candid, I must say prior to this Trump administration I probably would’ve rejoiced when I read some of your views. Now when I hear that langue it means something different. Language like bringing people to live righteously coming from a politician makes me cringe.
Under the Trump administration similar language is used to implement biased and flat out discriminatory policies. To give you a clear example, the push back around gay marriage has been prefaced with statements like this isn’t biblical. Clearly you have a different background…I’ve read about you and even listening to you speak there is obviously a distinction, but I now instinctively cringe when I hear similar language.
SN: That’s a fair statement. Even with me saying bring people to righteous living, living righteous means we do not judge or scorn others. So even though I may not agree personally, my tolerance must be such that I don’t display animosity or anger towards people that chose I lifestyle that I don’t see appropriate. It’s up to me to leave that judgement to The Most High.
GR: So, you leave that out of decisions and conversations regarding policy?
SN: Yes. For me principles will guide me. So if I don’t think it’s right I may not ultimately vote in favor of it, but the context of my speech must be such so that it doesn’t inflict judgement on a group. Personally, I may think that according to the Bible it might be wrong but when we are in policy making we make policies for everybody. Even those who live by certain principles or lifestyles that I may not personally agree with. So, I must balance my core principles with my responsibility to govern for everybody. But it gets hard sometimes in politics. You get tested.
GR: I can imagine. What does that look like for you when you get tested and how do you respond?
SN: I never want to lose me in the process. When it goes against my core I just can’t do it. If I’m being asked to decide on something that’s against my core beliefs I can’t go along with that. I ultimately say no. But I try not to say no in a scornful or hostile way.
GR: Can you give me an example when something was absolutely against your core beliefs but you knew, like you said, that you still must govern for everybody. How did you respond when that happened?
SN: Thankfully that discussion of gay rights and gay marriage didn’t get to a matter in front of the legislator because the Governor made an executive order. But just the thought of it coming had me thinking about how I would respond. I was planning to say that I understand an individual’s right to be with whomever they want to be with but my core beliefs prevent me from voting in that matter even though I am tolerant. I’m not trying to damn them to hell. Some of my constituents live that type of lifestyle. I can’t cut them off. I try to monitor my language to not offend but wouldn’t change how I would vote. I was prepared to introduce conversations to use different language…like perhaps a civil union.
I’m a Rastafarian (the first one ever elected) my family are immigrants from the other island. I’m not one of the other names that you see recycled through politics. Before I could even get sworn in properly the community is calling me “one of them.”
GR: Just to switch gears, I want to talk about your community activism. Prior to entering the world of politics, you were heavy into the non-profit world. You started organizations for youth and you built a solid name on the grassroots level.
Recently, a well-known activist named DeRay McKesson that was well respected and known for his social justice activism ran for Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland. He’s known for his grassroots efforts he made around ending police violence and has been the face of many of the Black Lives Matter Protest. His campaign was met with mixed reviews.
Some thought it was a great idea for him to become Mayor stating that you can’t change a system from the outside. Others said it made him a sell-out stating that he would become part of the bureaucracy they were trying to change. Do you face a similar response?
SN: The same exact thing happens to me now. A couple days after the election I became one of “them” in some people’s eyes. I use the analogy of trying to get into a guarded place and having the community toss me over the fence to help me get in. On the inside, I have guard dogs attacking me and when I try to go unlock the gate to let the community in to help they are now saying you are one of them. I’m getting shot by friendly fire because I’m grassroots to the bone.
I’m a Rastafarian (the first one ever elected) my family are immigrants from the other island. I’m not one of the other names that you see recycled through politics. Before I could even get sworn in properly the community is calling me “one of them.” I understand that, but I feel like I’m wearing a scarlet letter called politics. I was always very respected before…well known. But know they (sometimes) call you names walking down the street. I know people think you sign up for this when you’re a politician but I didn’t sign up for this. I signed up to help. It gets me angry. I get it from both sides. I come from the streets, and in the streets, I find that there is more integrity. In the streets, your word is your bond. In the senate, many of them are deceitful, can’t be trusted and are only out for selfish gain. So, I understand why the community would sometimes see us all the same way.
GR: Were you shocked by any of this?
SN: More like a disappointing reality check. It sometimes prevents progress.
GR: Speaking of progress, do you have any concerns about maintaining or making more progress under this new Presidential administration. Any projections on how this could impact St. Croix?
SN: I have concerns because it appears that he is a racist and biased President that is cutting spending on programs that help communities that it need it most. This impacts our communities and organizations here on a very local level. We typically received a great deal of money for programs that aid less advantaged communities.
I am also concerned about the picture this President is painting about immigrants and immigration. Even though we are part of the United States, (sometimes) when people don’t travel often they don’t realize this. I went to college in North Carolina and some Black people didn’t realize this. So, I am concerned about the way we (those perceived as immigrants) are being viewed and treated. But like I said, I am grassroots to the bone.
I intend to do some grassroots organizing to help the communities that are most impacted by budget cuts. I anticipate challenges, but positive is the way I live. Perhaps more grassroots organizing and conversations about the diaspora (among all our Black sisters and brothers) will be the positive things that come out of this.