By Brandon Martin
After 13 years of Republican control over Virginia’s 9th House of Delegates seat, political-newcomer Bridgette Craighead is hoping to notch a victory for the Democrats this November in a district that typically goes uncontested.
What Craighead lacks in political experience, she is hoping to make up for with a “can-do attitude” and a “genuine desire” to make a difference in her community.
Craighead, 30, is the owner of EL3ven11 Beauty Lounge in Rocky Mount. She gained national attention last year for her role in organizing for the group Black Lives Matter Franklin County.
“After the incident with George Floyd, there were a lot of protests happening and it touched my heart. I wanted to bring a protest to Rocky Mount. We’ve never had that before,” she said. “So we organized the protest and we developed Black Lives Matter Franklin County. Ever since, we’ve been involved with the community trying to bring awareness to everything that happened. That’s how I built my reputation.”
After that, Craighead said she began to look for other avenues to affect change by attending local board of supervisors meetings.
“During their meetings, it just felt like nobody actually listened to me. They heard what I had to say for my three minutes and that was it. Nothing changed at all,” Craighead said. “From there, I knew that I wanted to do something in Franklin County politics but I just didn’t know what.”
For Craighead, being a community leader was more akin to a dream than fate.
“Growing up, being where I am from, I didn’t ever think I could even do anything like that. I never saw anybody like me in those positions doing anything,” Craighead said, adding that she began networking through her activism group to make that dream a reality.
Craighead was eventually contacted by Dr. William “Fergie” Reid Jr., who focuses his efforts on ensuring candidates don’t run unopposed in general elections.
“He reached out to me to ask if I would do it and I said yes,” Craighead said. “I don’t have any experience in politics, but I am an everyday, ordinary person living in this district and I know how it feels to live here. I thought why not? I’m at least going to try.”
Under the direction of Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, Craighead said she feels like the district hasn’t been represented with respect to all of its constituents.
“I didn’t even know who our delegate was,” she said. “I feel like our district could be more progressive than what it is. There is only one voice being heard and helped in the district. That needs to change. I feel like if Del. Poindexter cared about all of his constituents, then he would help create more laws that are beneficial to everyone and not just the causes that he personally stands for.”
This is an area which Craighead believes that she can be different.
“I bring unity to the table. I’m for all of the people,” she said. “Yes, I represent ‘Black Lives Matter’ but in my reality, I stand for all people.”
Craighead said her approach will include “listening to” constituents and “finding common ground where we can move forward.”
Based on past positions held by Poindexter, Craighead said she feels that he has been supportive of laws that repress certain communities rather than lifting them up.
“The only things I’ve seen that he has done is around agriculture and things like that which I think is great, but I also see where he has been supportive of creating bills that pretty much put people in jail,” she said. “Being our representative, he should be creating programs to help bring people into society and help people with their mental issues or drug issues. Instead of finding ways to lock people up, he should be helping people better than what he has.”
If elected, Craighead said this is an area where she looks to make a change.
“I want to do things with mental health and prison because I feel we are so quick to create budgets that throw men and women in jail instead of figuring out what has caused these people to do things,” Craighead said. “Sometimes, I just don’t feel like jail is the answer for everything. People need to get genuine help to be able to live normal lives.”
For instance, Craighead said she takes issue with laws that require reporting past felonies on job applications and voting eligibility.
“Your past should not matter. Once you’ve served your time, we shouldn’t be continuing to punish you further. I want to help men and women establish their rights back,” she said. “If they are living a life they aren’t proud of, then I want to help show them different outlets where they don’t have to result to the streets to make a living. I want to show people where I’m from that they can make it as well. They don’t have to be in the system. They can exceed their struggles.”
She said that if elected, she hopes to have a more personal relationship with those that she represents.
“I want to reach out to people and talk to people that want to talk to me. I want to hear what they have to say and listen to their everyday issues to know what I can do to help them. I want to know what kind of laws I can create to help the people of all of the counties of which I am entrusted,” Craighead said. “Me being a representative of the Democratic Party does not mean that I don’t want to listen to the Republicans. I’m for the people and helping them regardless if they share the same political beliefs as me.”
Craighead wants to focus on creating more access to opportunities through transportation initiatives.
“A lot of people in these counties ━ Henry County, Franklin County and Patrick County ━ don’t have vehicles,” she said. “If you don’t have a vehicle then you can’t get to work. If you can’t get to work, then you probably don’t have a lot of money to live. Not having that money creates stress, which creates health problems and it goes on and on through the issues. It’s one simple thing we can do for our constituents to make life a little bit easier.”
In another form of granting access to those less fortunate, Craighead said she is interested in ideas for expanding broadband.
“A lot of our kids don’t live in the inner cities where there is access to the internet. I’m definitely for whatever it takes to get the internet expanded for everyone,” she added.
As a small business owner, Craighead is supportive of increasing the minimum wage.
“I’m a different type of owner. I feel like if I’m making $1 million, then my employee, who is working with me, should be making a decent living as well,” Craighead said. “As a small business owner, (raising the minimum wage) would hurt me in a sense, but that just means I have to create different ways to bring in revenues for higher incomes so I can pay that person what they are worth.”
While she is supportive of an increase to the minimum wage, Craighead doesn’t believe that each business carries the same burden.
“For a small business owner, it would be hard for us to pay someone $15 an hour and balance your home life, business bills, and whatever. But if you are making millions or billions, then you can definitely offer your employees $15 an hour,” she said. “I don’t see why not. It should be higher. The people should not have to struggle.”
Craighead said the state should offer more incentives to make it easier for people “but not so easy where people become lazy but enough to ensure we are doing our part to make sure people have the things they need to be successful.”
While outpacing Poindexter or Republican primary challenger Wren Williams in a traditionally red district is daunting, Craighead knows a race can’t be won from the sidelines.
“Protesting is just not enough. We have to get in there somehow,” she said. “Honestly, if there is another candidate that could do this then I would bow out gracefully, and I would support that person till the end of the race. But if nobody else is going to do it, then I will. Uncontested incumbency cannot happen this go around.”
If she is successful, Craighead will make history in three different ways for the district. She will be the first woman, the first person of color and the first Democrat to hold the seat.
Craighead is a resident of Rocky Mount and she has one son, Bronsyn, 4. She is a graduate of William Fleming High School and Paul Mitchell The School Roanoke.