Before being sworn into officer as a Georgia county commissioner, 26-year-old Mariah Parker was asked if she would like a Bible on which to place her right hand.”
Then she was asked if she would like to do it on a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
Her choice, instead, was a paperback copy of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
The doctoral student was being sworn in to serve as an elected member of the Athens-Clarke County commission, a seat she won by 13 votes.
“They asked if they would like the Bible and I said no. My mother asked if there was a copy of the Constitution around. No,” Parker said. “I wanted Malcolm’s book. I think they saw it coming.”
Parker has previously studied linguistics as a rapper, and goes by the name Lingua Franca.
She said Malcolm X’s life story inspires and informs her worldview.
The book, written with Alex Haley, who would later win a Pulitzer Prize for “Roots,” mapped Malcolm X’s conversions from a poor boy who saw his father murdered, to a drugged-addled jailed criminal, to the face of one of the most misunderstood religious orders in the country, to a vocal civil rights leader who would ultimately become a martyr.
“Having seen the transformation of someone who came through a difficult background to become vocal and push conversations on race in a radical way is powerful,” Parker said. “Then he shifted course and saw race in a different lens as he got older. And the fact that he was arguably killed for his politics. These are things that I want to embrace.”
Parker, who is getting her doctorate in language and literacy education, said she didn’t finish reading the landmark autobiography until about a year ago, but was struck by the parallels. She grew up poor in rural Kentucky. Overcame substance abuse. Struggled with mental-health issues.
“I was very lucky to break away from some of the generational patterns, by going to college and getting out of the town,” said Parker. “But I struggled, and I thought people only looked at me as having nothing to offer.”
A progressive, who describes herself as openly queer, Parker was motivated to run for office because of what she saw was a need for vocal leadership.
She beat Taylor Pass by 13 votes running on a platform of economic justice, reducing poverty and discrimination, affordable housing, fair-wage jobs, youth development, criminal-justice reform and marijuana reform.
“Malcolm’s willingness to uneditedly speak about black people at large, are qualities that I want to embody,” Parker said. “To speak out when I see things going wrong.”