By Sharon Fountain and Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
He’s well known in civic circles, but in politics, not many people know Ra Joy.
One month after State Rep. Julianna Stratton was tapped as Jay “J.B.” Pritzker’s running mate, his opponent Chris Kennedy selected Joy, a political newcomer, to join him in the Illinois race for governor, the Chicago Crusader learned on Wednesday.
Kennedy was to make the announcement on Thursday, September 14, but the day before, his campaign gave an exclusive interview to the Crusader to announce that Joy, 44, would be Kennedy’s running mate for Illinois lieutenant governor.
The announcement added a new twist to a high-profile political race led by big names and wealthy candidates.
Joy may be neither, but to Kennedy, that’s a big plus that could put both of them in Illinois’ highest office. With no political experience, Kennedy believes that Joy will draw young voters and shake up the status quo in Springfield.
During the interview with the Crusader Kennedy said, “I don’t know that voters want the people who are part of the status quo, but if that’s what they want then they already have a candidate.”
“This campaign is really about change,” Joy told the Crusader. “The status quo has failed us miserably in Illinois. The state is hurting right now and it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Ra Joy is executive director of CHANGE Illinois, a non-partisan coalition leading systemic political and government reform.
Prior to heading CHANGE, Joy served as executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois for eight years, where he led statewide and citywide initiatives to elevate the role of the arts and culture in people’s lives, schools and communities. Before that Joy served as a senior aide to U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL 9th District), specializing in appropriations and community and economic development initiatives.
Joy’s commitment to civic and social change earned him several honors, including the 2015 Chicago Community Trust Fellowship, the 2015 Cultural Champion Award from the Chicago Cultural Alliance, and the Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.
Joy is a 2005 Leadership Greater Chicago fellow and a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. He is also a member of the City of Chicago’s Cultural Advisory Council. He is a frequent speaker on democracy reform, civic participation, and the arts in America.
While his Democratic opponent, Pritzker, is banking on Black female and male voters with Stratton as his running mate, Kennedy is perhaps aiming for a much larger pool of voters by capitalizing on the new automatic voter registration, which will add hundreds of thousands of new voters to the rolls.
In May, the Illinois legislature unanimously passed legislation that made Illinois the tenth state with automatic voter registration. Citizens who visit the Department of Motor Vehicles and several other state agencies, will be automatically registered to vote.
Many of these voters will be young Illinois residents who have become disillusioned with incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner and the political establishment, and the handling of the state’s two-year budget crisis and economic fiasco.
With Pritzker gaining momentum in Black Chicago, Kennedy, the son of late New York State Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, will need to find political votes from among other demographics groups.
Once a favorite in Chicago’s Black community, Kennedy has fallen behind Pritzker in the number of endorsements from Black leaders.
In June Congressman Bobby Rush endorsed Kennedy, saying Illinois needs “a governor who will listen to our pain, to our cries and not just listen, but roll up their sleeves and do something about it. That’s why I believe in Chris Kennedy.”
A survey conducted by the Kennedy campaign in June found that Kennedy led Pritzker 44 percent to 38 percent in the trial heat. Among Illinois voters who “knew both candidates,” Kennedy held a 49 percent to 37 percent lead.
The 602 people who were polled are Democratic primary voters who intend to vote in the party’s primary election, according to the Kennedy campaign.
Though a political newcomer, Joy holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Government from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He has been recognized as an advocate for redistricting reform and community based change for nearly two decades. He was raised in Evanston, Illinois and attended the city’s public schools. Joy and his wife Falona live on the South Side.