In the fifth grade, Brandon Rue watched one of his political inspirations, the first African American president, former president Barack Obama, be sworn into office. Almost 10 years later, Rue is preparing to make his campaign announcement for representative of Mississippi House District 102 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31 in Thad Cochran Center room 218.
The junior communication studies major from Meridian said he has “always been the student who has been involved in everything.”
Maintaining an image demanding of respect is necessary for Rue these days. Even comedian Chelsea Handler knows his name after reading a Deep South Voice article about his activism.
The day before the senate race between Hyde-Smith and Mike Espy, Handler tweeted “People like Brandon Rue are leading the charge to the future.”
Freshman public relations major and intern on Rue’s campaign, Kaitlyn August met Rue during one of his voter registration drives. August said shortly after registering to vote, she met him again in the library, where he explained his campaign values.
August said she believes Rue has a good chance of securing undergraduate votes after learning he supports equality in education and more funding for teachers and higher education.
“Being a college student, how could you not resonate with that?” August said. “He’s young. He’s fresh. He’s not tired out. He’s not bogged down by ‘big business’ as some would say. He’s not in it just for the money. He’s really in it to make a difference.”
Rue received national attention during the fall semester for leading 250 students in walking to the polls, a press release condemning Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and helping bring Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey to campus.
Rue said he thought he was not doing enough until he received positive comments from the Southern Miss community congratulating him on increasing voter engagement.
However, he did notice negative comments after he spoke out against Hyde-Smith’s “public hanging” comment.
“I believe what she said was extremely wrong, so why not speak out against it?” Rue said.
“Regardless of what race you are, you should feel some type of way about it, especially here [at Southern Miss]. We pride ourselves on being diverse and inclusive. That’s the least inclusive thing that you can say and do, so how can anybody on this campus come out against me on that?”
Rue said he feels the experience prepared him for possible backlash he might face during his campaign.
Although Rue gained campaign experience with former Mayor Johnny Dupree, Kathryn Rehner and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Espy, Rep. Jeramey Anderson allowed Rue to take on bigger roles during his campaign against Steven Palazzo for the U.S. House in 2018.
Anderson’s campaign gave Rue the opportunity to speak and host multiple campaigning events and work on student engagement.
Rue said Anderson, the youngest African American to be elected into a state legislature at age 21, is one of his role models.
“I see what he’s doing, and it makes me feel like I can do it as well,” Rue said.
Small business, economic opportunities, education reform, expanding healthcare and decreasing brain drain will be Rue’s campaign platform. Citing numerous statistics, Rue said he wants Mississippi to stop ranking near the bottom in almost all of those areas.
“We need more young people to make their voices heard in government,” Anderson said. “Brandon Rue is an outstanding individual who would make a great public servant. Brandon’s passion for change, his determination to protect public education, women’s rights and health care access for all Mississippians will carry him far.”
Being the second of nine children to graduate high school and being a first-generation college student, Rue said education is his number one priority.
Rue said coming to Southern Miss gave him the freedom to learn who he is. During his time as a student, he has been a member of the Student Government Association Senate, Student Alumni Association board, African American Student Organization and the Student Involvement Ambassadors.
Currently, Rue is the president of Southern Miss’ College Democrats and has been offered the position of president of the Mississippi College Democrats.
Representation and mentorship from black men have played key roles in Rue’s life, and he has attempted to pay it forward by founding ELEVATE, a nonprofit organization composed of college students that works with fifth graders at Woodley Elementary School to promote leadership skills and empowerment.
Still, there is worry that Rue is seen as unrelatable.
Sophomore nursing major Zykimbreia Fields serves as Rue’s campaign director and one of his best friends. Fields said the two discuss the way Rue is perceived “all the time.”
“He says, ‘I don’t think people know me as a person. I think they just know me as a figure.” He’s the type of person to keep his guard up. If you’re ever in a situation where you get to see him put his guard down, it’s a beautiful thing,” Fields said.
Inspiring others to be politically involved is the main goal of Rue’s campaign.
“I want to give people hope,” Rue said. “I want students to look at me and say, ‘Dang, we can actually do something outside this university.’ I want people to understand this is for all of us. I want people to be more aware of what’s going on.”
“I think now I’ve shifted from just a college student to an actual candidate.”
The residents of District 102 will cast their vote for Rue or incumbent state Rep. Missy McGee Nov. 5.
To learn more about Rue’s campaign, visit brandonrue.org.