Phara Souffrant Forest, 31, is set to become a brand-new New York State assemblymember in November. She’s one of a slate of young democratic socialist candidates in New York City who won their Democratic primaries in June. A nurse from Crown Heights, Souffrant Forest was working full time while campaigning during the pandemic — and was tending to a patient when she heard the news that she won her primary over an eight-year incumbent. She lives with her parents and her husband in the same apartment she grew up in, an experience she says makes her a better representative for the people of the 57th District. Here’s how she gets it done:
On her close-quarters quarantine:
I live in Crown Heights, in the small apartment I grew up in, with my parents and my husband, Charles. Charles got COVID back in March; he was stuck on one side of the apartment, and there was a curtain in between us to try to make sure we stayed safe. I took over the living room — you can imagine, I’m trying to do campaign calls, and my mom’s cooking, and Charles is making phone calls in the kitchen, and then my dad is in the bedroom just handling his life as an unemployed person. He’s a taxi driver. My mom is a home health worker. My husband has been completely spoiled by the fact that he has two cooks. I come home from work and make something like Italian food, while my mom makes home-cooked Haitian food.
On balancing work, school, and running for office:
I work as a nurse manager at a family health center in Brownsville, and I’m finishing up my bachelor’s in nursing. In the house there’s very few quiet spaces — in the morning, I wake up before everyone else, and sit on the toilet and meditate. Then I do hair and makeup — with masks, it’s all about the eyes. I do full eyebrow shading and I like glitter, a little nice eyeliner and probably a color like pink or purple. I catch up on my reading and emails on the train.
After my shift, I run home, kiss my husband hello, pop open my computer and start my evening meetings from about 5:30 to 8:30. Then I do my homework. I try to stop every night at 9:40, because even though it’s only probably like an hour, I insist on making sure my husband and I have time to connect. We pop popcorn and watch TV.
How she got into politics:
While I was in nursing school, I started getting active in some student groups, and it gave me an opportunity to really look at some of the issues in my community, including housing. At the time, my building was going from rent-stabilized to condos. There was no one to really help us on the ground, as far as elected officials. I joined the housing justice coalition up in Albany and we did a massive protest. I was kicked in the back by capitol security guards, and some people ended up in the hospital. It was absolutely ridiculous. People had talked to me before about running for office and I was like, I’m very happy being a nurse, leave me alone. But after that I just thought, No, I’m done with this. Give these people a challenge.
On running with a slate of young democratic socialists of color:
To run in part of a slate is the way that socialists should do it. We built a platform together, based on the different organizations that we participate in. It’s a collaborative thing. People naturally identified with it, because in many ways they saw themselves in it. And it made it very clear to our opponents that we have an agenda. We are not here for some glory-seeking power. We’re not here for coronation. We’re literally here just for this. When we won, we celebrated with socially distanced beer drinking in the park.
On not wanting to be a career politician:
My dad was very political in Haiti, and when he immigrated he brought the same excitement about politics. He used to take me to political meetings, protests, rallies, marches, speeches. This summer, seeing protests walking up and down Eastern Parkway or watching my Citizen app and seeing red and yellow pop up everywhere across the city, my heart just swelled, because this is the temperature that we need. This is how hot the kettle has to be for us to get things moving. This is how hot it has to be for a nurse to be elected. When you talk about cutting funding for hospitals, that’s my job. When you talk about raising rent, that’s why I’m still living with my mama and my daddy. I don’t plan on being a career politician. I’m not going to be 32 years in office. There are so many other things to do in life. I want to be able to give people access, that’s all.