By: Dominque Brodie (’19), Staff Writer
You know how everything around you can tell you to be small, and you decide to rebel against it?
Learning to rebel against that feeling is exactly what made Student Body President-Elect Bradley Opere want to enter the race in the first place.
Opere, a junior in the Kenan-Flagler Business School, won the February election with an astounding 53% of the overall vote, beating out two other candidates: Wilson Sink and John Taylor. Opere’s is the first victory without a runoff election in at least the last 5 years (one candidate must receive over 50% of the vote to win without a runoff) and according to the Kenya native, is right on time.
A Morehead-Cain Scholar, Opere says, “My feeling was that within UNC and everything that had happened last semester, it was time for people of color to figure that we could define this University in the ways we wanted, and that appealed to me.”
Adding to this, Opere feels that he has found a sense of home within Student Government.
After working within Student Government’s Multicultural and Diversity Outreach Committee for two years, he intends to use his presidency as a larger platform to continue the work he’s been doing. This home in Student Government is one that has been essential to Opere’s Carolina experience, especially as someone who has somewhat of a hard time defining where home really is. Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya and moving to South Africa around the age of 17, then to North Carolina two years later, Opere finds it difficult for people to understand and identify with the many diverse experiences that shape his current perspective.
On what will be his biggest challenge, Opere said, “It’s so unique to have me that I think it’s going to take a lot of understanding from the Student Body to see where I’m coming from or to see why I see things the way I do. It’s very easy to be misinterpreted, so I think that’s going to form a bulk of the work: having a lot of students grasp where exactly I want to take us and why I’m doing it.”
As the only non-white candidate in the race, Opere says that his race was always a factor for his campaign. Opere tried to put little emphasis on race throughout his campaign and doesn’t want it to define his presidency, but he knows that it will continue to be a big factor going forward.
Opere’s victory was extremely meaningful for many students from marginalized backgrounds, because not only is he a person of color, but an international student from Africa. This is not to mention Opere’s personal troubles and his initial struggle to even get on the ballot. The day the candidates’ petitions to appear on the ballot (requiring 1,250 student signatures) were due, Opere was granted a 24 hour extension because he had initially fallen short of the 1,250 mark. The many obstacles set before Opere were clearly not enough to dissuade him from running–and ultimately winning.
The election of a Black SBP, however, is not completely new to Carolina: Richard Epps was the first Black person to hold the office in 1972. In the context of 2016, though, this moment doesn’t seem so rare. In a time when the President of the U.S. is Black, the president of CUAB is Black, the Carolina Union Board of Directors Chair is Black, and many Black students have prominent roles throughout campus, it seems to fit that our new Student Body President is Black as well.
Seeing faces of color in leadership, however, can be misleading. The presence of Black and brown people in those roles doesn’t necessarily mean that those people will positively and accurately represent the views of the larger non-white community. This causes a common fear among the black student community: that our varied voices will be homogenized or that Bradley’s opinions and perspectives as a black person will be appropriated to the entire population of Black UNC students.
Opere thinks his voice will be one singular voice for part of the community, but he hopes that student groups and individual student leaders who have had large voices in the past will continue to use those voices to work together towards change. He says, “I hope those voices keep being heard, and wherever I can contribute my voice, I will.”
This kind of collaboration and community building was an essential component of Opere’s campaign, and he intends to continue using community as a means of getting things done.
He spoke several times about how much the help of others contributed to his success and how his future success will depend on partnerships with other student groups, saying, “Yes, the bulk has to start with me, but I need a lot of campus leaders to know that my success depends very much on their acceptance of our goals as their own. I will be spending a lot of time with campus groups to make sure that our priorities are also theirs.”
As far as policies, Opere’s main priorities seem to include a partnership with the Racial Equity Institute, increasing Student Government’s visibility on campus, and working towards better sexual assault policies.
Opere is clearly very dedicated to enacting change on our campus for everyone, but especially for minority groups. He wants a main focus to be simply making people care about the issues. He believes that “for minority issues, we need more people that aren’t just minorities showing up and getting educated, because it’s not just up to people of color to educate people on the issues.”
Opere also intends to put more of his own effort towards caring about these issues than past Student Body Presidents. He believes that this will be one of the biggest expectations of him from black students specifically.
“The main issue throughout the years has been that, black students have always really questioned if SBPs really care about them or if they simply come because they want votes,” he says.
Opere certainly cares, and will certainly be a unique Student Body President. When we asked what he was most looking forward to, he laughed and said, among many things, “I’m looking forward to telling a different story.”
We’re certain it will be a story well worth telling, and can’t wait to watch Opere’s journey over the next 8 months.