HUDSON, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The city of Hudson is seeing a historic year filled with challenges stemming from racial tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s adding to the landmark year in the election of Kamal Johnson as the city’s youngest and first Black mayor.
“A lot of people think about legacy. For me, I really want it to be about my impact that I made on people in the community,” Johnson said.
Johnson has dubbed his town a tale of two cities. He took NEWS10 ABC along Warren Street which is known for its high-end stores, but just a block away is a stark contrast.
“You literally live to work, pay bills and die,” Johnson said.
His story is not quite a Dickens novel, but Johnson knows what it’s like to be homeless and living paycheck-to-paycheck.
He’s one of four boys to a single mom living in a second floor apartment building. It’s a place that would later come back into his life in an unexpected way.
“I really didn’t know that there was a future for me in politics and that I could actually affect families like my family who was living in poverty,” Johnson said.
To help families overcome situations like his, he’s launched a universal income pilot program with former democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. It’s one of several programs aimed to save low income residents from skyrocketing rent.
“I’ve lived here all my life, so I could never afford $1,500 and up for rent,” said Annette Perry.
Perry lives in the city’s subsidized housing projects. She’s known Johnson since he was a kid, meeting him after he moved into the housing projects across the street while his mom was in rehab.
“It’s very wonderful to see the first African American, black, young, mayor. He’s one of the men who grew up in Hudson, made a difference in Hudson and now he’s the mayor.”
The universal income program can help people like Perry. 25 Hudson residents who earn under the city’s median income will get $500 per month for five years.
“We have to keep people here in a livable situation to keep our community going,” Johnson said.
As he writes a new narrative for the city, he says there was a lot of pain and maturing to take control of his own.
All of Johnson’s brothers have gone to jail. It’s something he decided wasn’t his path after visiting a brother at Greene Correctional Facility.
“He was telling me, ‘I could teach you the game. You could be just like me.’ Seeing the surroundings and the guards, I had this epiphany moment where I was like, I don’t want this,” Johnson said.
He’s leading by example to show others that it’s never too late to start a new chapter in life.
“I’m here for a reason and I’d rather me in this situation than anyone else.”
That two story building where his mom raised four boys alone, decades later, turned into his election headquarters.
“I was just like, ‘This is full circle. There’s no way I’m going to, like, be defeated with this energy coming from the universe,'” Johnson said.
That inner voice saying ‘I can’ turned his underdog campaign into a historic one.
“The best kind of change for something that you think is unfair is to be at the table.”
A goal to turn this tale of two cities into a place of great expectations.
“Whenever someone told me I couldn’t do it, or they said no it was too hard, I was like, it’s possible,” Johnson said.
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