Seeing his father get arrested and eventually deported, lifelong Baychester resident Kevin Riley knows about struggle and adversity.
For a long time, Riley thought he would follow in the path of his father. But today, the 33-year-old is running for City Council in the 12th District, hoping to fill the vacated seat in a special election after Andy King was expelled.
After spending the past decade working for the Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, first as a constituent liaison and now the community relations director, Riley, who is the 83rd Assembly District Leader, is ready to take the next step.
“I believe I’m the best candidate to represent this area,” Riley said to the Bronx Times. “After all these years it’s time for me to support this community.”
At 7-years-old, Riley witnessed his dad, Balfour Riley, get locked up. Although he would visit him in jail, nothing could replace having his father at home. According to Riley, he often envisioned himself being in jail like his dad.
His mom, Lavern McLeod-Riley, worked multiple jobs and filled in for both parental roles. However, it was not easy growing up without a male figure in a rough community, Riley recalled.
“As a young Black boy you kind of feel this [jail] is what will happen to you,” he explained.
While he played basketball at Mount Saint Michael Academy, high school was a challenge. Riley got into many fights and those moments were when he missed his dad the most.
“There were times I was literally afraid of walking both ways,” he explained.
Things began to improve when he attended the Butler United Methodist Church. There he found mentors, became focused, participated in programs and even met future Senator Jamaal Bailey.
After graduating high school, he attended SUNY College at Old Westbury where he obtained a B.A. in politics, economics and law, hoping to one day become a lawyer and help people of color like his father from ending up in jail.
While pursuing his degree, Riley became involved with several student activities, such as the student council, Residential Life Association and the Divine Nine Greek Council. He was the president of the Mu Omicron chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
In 2008, he got and internship with Heastie and the rest is history. He joked that he didn’t know much about politics as a kid but now it is his life.
“I wasn’t even cognizant of the different offices in my community,” he said.
After obtaining his masters degree, he founded a nonprofit organization Music Over Violence, which has hosted peace summits and rallies to address violence and social injustice within his community.
Riley’s daughters encouraged him and his other fraternity brothers to create The Dad Gang, nationwide organization that eliminates the stereotypes that black dads are not a part of their children’s lives.
As he looks ahead to the election on Dec. 22, Riley stressed there must be investments made to the education system and mental health programs, more opportunities for youths and an expansion of the the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process from 60 to 90 days.
While he does not want the community to become gentrified like Bedford-Stuyvesant or Bushwick, he feels things must change.
“The issue I see in my community is saying it’s going to be affordable housing and then it’s turned into something else,” he stated.
Riley credited his growth and success to Heastie and Bailey, who taught him the willingness to work with people even if they do not agree.
He also expressed gratitude to his mother saying, “I live my life in making sure I make my mother proud. I’ve never seen somebody sacrifice so much.”
Riley, who recently saw his father three years ago for the first time since high school, hopes he can change lives for young men and women in the community and set an example for his two daughters, Brooke and Kate.
“You have to remember why you are doing this, because you love the community,” he said.
Early voting for the District 12 City Council race runs from Dec. 12 to 20 and the official election day is Dec. 22. Visit the Board of Elections website at findmypollsite.vote.nyc to find early voting and election day sites.