A senior pastor’s wife, Ava Graves has been active in her church in Houston even before she was married. Ava is the democratic party chair at Jefferson County in Texas. On today’s show, she joins Jason Byrd to talk about why she loves Beaumont City, her life and work as a senior pastor’s wife, and becoming Jefferson County’s democratic party chair. She also talks a little bit about being a community volunteer and shares how she got involved in politics.
Listen to the podcast here:
Ava Graves on Beaumont, Community Work, And Being A Pastor’s Wife And Party Chair
We have Ava Graves. Welcome.
I’m glad you came in. Most notably, we have many mutual friends but we just met. You’re not a lifelong Beaumontian.
I am not but I am a true Beaumontian.
I said to one of our mutual friends, “I don’t know her.” He’s like, “I’ve known her for a good while.” I guess I don’t get out much. That’s why I probably hadn’t met you. It’s not your fault. It’s certainly mine. I don’t get out much. Why Beaumont?
My husband is a pastor in the United Methodist Church, an itinerant minister. He was appointed here years ago. Like you when you said why Beaumont, I asked, “Why Beaumont?” I had a perception of Southeast Texas growing up that said, “When you travel from Houston to Mobile, Alabama, don’t stop until you get over the Louisiana bridge.” We’re talking back in the ‘60s, the early ‘70s, so that was still my perception as an adult. When we learned that we were being appointed to Beaumont, I did some research. I looked on the internet and in the library and tried to find out what is Beaumont all about. To my surprise, it’s a very culturally diverse city. There are lots of wonderful museums, various ethnicities, natural resources, the Neches River, the Sabine Pass, the Cattail Marsh and many wonderful things to do that don’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Coming from Houston, it’s a very expensive place to live. I treated coming to Beaumont like a tourist would treat it. I knew I had to get with the program. I told myself, “Ava, wherever you go, God is there too. Just get with it.” Once we got to Beaumont and got settled into our home, I started volunteering at different places and different events of things that I enjoy doing. As a result of that, I made a lot of friends and that was my goal. I’ve got to find some girlfriends. There was this wonderful resource called Southeast Texas Magazine. I think Shelly Vitanza was writing it then. It had everything. It was like a list of everything that was going on in the city of Beaumont. I started following that calendar and the rest they say is history.
You grew up in Houston then.
That’s another story as well. I was born in Nashville, Tennessee. My father was a college professor and he was working on his PhD. We moved from Nashville to Norman, Oklahoma and my father got his PhD there. We moved back to Tennessee State for a year. We came to Houston to Texas Southern, which is where my father retired from.It’s very rare that you're both so mad that one person won't extend the olive branch. Click To Tweet
He was there for the majority of his career.
It was 25 years of his career.
Is he still with us in Houston?
No, he’s deceased. We miss him a lot.
I lost my dad, so I’m with you there.
It’s a memoir.
I’m glad you found that it’s not that bad a place. Before, you said, “What are you doing here?” Because I grew up in South Texas and mine’s much less thoughtful, I told you, “When you’re a young man, you follow a woman or a job.” My wife’s from the area, I had a good job and a good law firm here. Here we go.
We decided to stay. My husband’s appointment is being itinerant. Each year, in the United Methodist conference system, you come up for review. They make a decision if you’re going to stay or if you’ll be reappointed to somewhere else. We’ve been here for many wonderful years. We’ve been able to do some creative things in ministry outside of our church walls. The church that my husband pastors has an interesting historical history, the McCabe Roberts United Methodist Church. There was Roberts United Methodist Church, which was a predominantly white congregation, then McCabe United Methodist Church, which was predominantly black.
As the area of Roberts Avenue started changing, the community started changing. More people were moving out into the suburbs to the West and the congregation started dwindling in numbers and McCabe began to grow. These two churches merged. As a result of that, Roberts Avenue lost more members that weren’t for that merge, so as did McCabe. When we got to the church, they’d been merged for fifteen years. People were still healing from that process. Since we’ve been there, we’ve grown closer as members and friends. We’ve been able to do creative things like a community garden. We are CCCs count center for the 2020 census. A lot of social justice and community outreach type things.
I knew your husband was a pastor there and I looked it up and I didn’t know the story of the church. I wasn’t quite here that long ago, I would have had no reason to know it. After we got married and once we started with the kids, we start going to the Methodist church. It was a compromise. She was Baptist and me Episcopalian. We had to meet in the middle and Methodist is a good middle. We’ve fallen off from in the last few years. I was reading about it. I said, “We have to go check this place out.” I think I will. I’ll bring the kids. I promise they won’t tear anything up on the first day. Because that’s an interesting story that you don’t see much. I’ve got friends from all kinds of backgrounds. None of us look the same, talk the same, act the same, but we have a lot of mutual respect. My friends and I joke, oftentimes the most segregated part of America is the church, and that’s true. I don’t know why. It may be tradition more than anything. It’s what I’m guessing. I said, “Come to think of it.”
I grew up in a community where there wasn’t much of an African-American population. We’re so far South Texas and it wasn’t just all white folks. It was probably predominantly Hispanic in the neighborhood where I grew up. When I moved here, it’s in sheer volume. It’s like, “I’ve never seen this many black folks.” I’d always had friends in school. I was ignorant to some of the historical issues because as a young man, I wasn’t around any problem. I wasn’t around people treating people differently. I learned about it in school but you didn’t see it. I didn’t see so much of the aftermath or the ramifications that are growing from it, which I think to this day is probably a blessing more than anything. I started pretty even place with everybody.
I can identify with that. When we left Nashville, it was a predominantly black high school that I was attending. I was still in elementary when we went to Norman, Oklahoma. That was my first encounter with non-blacks. In my classroom, it was me and one other African-American student. Everyone else was white or Asian. Because it was a university, there are ethnicities there. For me, it was a little more comfortable than for my sister who was a year older than me. She was treated a lot differently than I was with her peers. It could have been that I have a friend that tells me all the time, “Ava, you make people talk to you. There’s no way no one’s not going to talk to you.”
Maybe you’re a little more charming than your sister.
She’s pretty sweet too. I have a girlfriend that tells me that she’s like, “You will make a rock talk to you.” That’s my personality. I can identify with you on that cultural experience of something that you haven’t had before.
I’ll give you a silly example. I’ve got a very dear friend for many years here in Beaumont. I’ll stop and check on his mom from time to time. We’ve gotten to be buddies. I’m a lawyer and he’s a truck driver and we don’t talk about work, but that’s not important. He’s a good guy and knows the kids and all that. This was several years ago, but I think it was his sister who was having a birthday party over at his mom’s house. I came over, we had a good time, had a bunch of cocktails and danced in the driveway. We had a big old time. A couple of days later, I said, “I had fun.” He goes, “I’m going to tell you something.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You’re the first white guy I’ve ever brought to my mom’s house.” I’ve never thought of it that way. Not in a bad way, but that’s the only thing. I was taken aback. I’m like, “I’m glad you did. Your mom was pretty sweet.” McCabe Roberts, that’s over on Roberts.
It is on 1205 Roberts Avenue between Orange and Victoria.
I know exactly where that is. I know I’ve seen it. There are several schools not far from it.
MLK Junior and Middle school is down the street and Blanchette.Kindness is an invaluable asset to have in your arsenal because it sets up an opportunity to build relationships. Click To Tweet
My boys go to Odom, which is not too far away.
Beaumont United is not far from us.
There’s another middle school that’s not far. The Pathways school is pretty close. It’s not far as well. That used to be an elementary, but now the alternative school for the district. That’s pretty close too. That place is in Roberts Avenue though. That’s coming off of Washington. Now I know. You keep Rodney on his toes, don’t you? That’s your husband.
That is my sweet husband. He is the kindest guy I’ve ever met.
You’ve been married a good while.
Marriage is a lot of work and that’s something that oftentimes the generation of my parents never talked about. They didn’t say that they argued or as my husband and I call it, loving discussions. The challenges of being with someone and committed to someone every day all day long, that’s big. I was 40 when I met my husband and we married. I’d live a lot alone for a very long time. It was a lot of adjusting and a lot of mirroring. You could get to learn about yourself. I didn’t realize I talked to myself as much as I did until I got married.
Ours is a little different. I tell everybody she raised me. When I met her, I was nineteen and she was twenty. I was 22 when we got married. She has pretty much raised me. I generally like her more now than I ever did. What I mean by that is we don’t agree on everything. It doesn’t mean we got to fight. We can disagree. We’re both pretty headstrong. That’s because it took us many years to figure that out.
Before I got married, I would unofficially interview couples that I admired and I would say, “What’s the glue? What keeps you together? What’s the thing that holds you together year after year?” One of the things that I was told was, “Be ready for change. You may walk out the door in the morning and things are one way and when you get back in the evening, it will be different. Just be open to change.” That was a valuable nugget for me because things can change and the process. With the learning to live with someone, learning about yourself, the aging process, your career and things are continually changing.
It won’t ever go away. When you’re having a good day, he’s there. When you’re having a bad day, he’s there.
The other nugget I was given that I took away from my unofficial interviews was be forgiving and be ready to forgive and move on. The third nugget was that somehow you both won’t be so mad at the same time that one person won’t extend the olive branch. It will be very rare that you’re both so mad that one person won’t reach out. There have been sometimes when I folded my arms and stomped my feet and said, “Lord, not me. It’s going to have to be him because it’s not me.” I ended up extending the olive branch to my husband. Those things I treasured in my heart and they would come into use from time to time without me even searching for them. They had become a part of me. I researched getting married and relationships like I did coming to Beaumont. Let me find out why, how, what, when and all of those questions.
I have a feeling your daddy gave you some of those skills, that research. I call it that smart work. Your husband’s a senior pastor at the church and that probably keeps him busy. You obviously support him. Do you work with the church as well?
I do a lot of ministries. I do get involved. Before we’re married, I was very active in my church in Houston and that was my lifestyle. That was being involved with the women’s ministry, going on retreats, Bible study and any event that was going on at church. I was single and that was a good place for me to recover. I wasn’t always a church girl. I was baptized in the Methodist church as a little girl and became a teenager in the ‘70s, so you can imagine. I had a journey to get back to that place. It’s been amazing. I don’t consider myself a religious fanatic, but I do consider myself a very spiritual person. I feel that everything’s connected. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Everything flows together.
I feel like the older I get each year, the less religious I get, the little less structured, but maybe the more spiritual I get. I know that sounds silly, but a lot of the structure of things helped me and kept me engaged. It was almost like a safety net. Life beats you up a little bit here and there and so I’m more skeptical of things now, but I find more comfort in spiritual things. You get that. Unfortunately, at some point, we’re going to have to talk a little about politics too. For people who may not know you, in addition to being a community volunteer and helping your husband in every way he needs and helps at the church, you’re also involved in politics a little bit.
I like to say I’m involved in service and it happens to manifest through the political arena. The first campaign that I worked on was President Obama in his first election.
I got a picture of me and Obama. That was during the second election and that’s an expensive photo, but it was worth it. It was fun. It was only a group of about twenty of us in DC. We went in for an afternoon and we had a meeting. We got to meet with Kathleen Sebelius for about an hour, an hour and a half. The next person who came who worked on the campaign. One of the smartest people we have in the country. He was brilliant and he was the head strategist, David Plouffe. Five or six months before the election, he said, “Here’s my breakdown. Here’s what I think. Here are the seven million people who are going to decide this election.” Seven million of the population at the time of nearly 300 million. “Here are the seven million people who get to decide and here’s where they live. Not their house address but here’s where they live.” When he was talking, I was probably most engaged by him. It took a lot of minutes and he was right.
He told you how it works, the analytics and all.
He got to the analytics and I wanted to check his homework and he was right. He got done and he spoke for about an hour and a half. It was very interactive because it’s a fairly small group. He left and it got eerie and quiet. We were in this dark room like in the basement at a hotel in DC. I was the youngest guy in the room. I was 34-ish and the wall just opened up. There was a false door and out pop some Secret Service agents. The mood changed. I’ve been around presidents but always past, which there’s always a detail and whatnot, but it was definitely a different vibe with the sitting president. The wall opened up and he popped out. You hear the motorcade come in and it shook the building right there. He popped in and he spent about an hour-and-twenty-minutes with us. We had a good visit. I was a fan. I’ve met 3 or 4 of them, both parties, on a one-on-one basis. Clinton is the smoothest. If he’s standing there talking to you, he can talk you to do about anything and he won’t let go of you. He’s got you and shaking your hand, he’ll bring you in and envelops you.
Closer than I thought he would be in second, is to Obama. He’s pretty good on a one-on-one. I thought, “He’s good in front of the camera. Maybe in person, he won’t be as strong.” Not true. I was a fan, not of everything. Because in the meeting we had some real hard questions because as a group we had taken some issues to some things that he had said and some State of the Union address and was going to address that we’d squarely didn’t agree with. He handled it well. Overall, I thought was our best choice for the country for a variety of reasons. I’m talking about this and this is about you, but it was Tremaine because that was the first campaign you worked on.
I believe in authentic relationships. In authentic relationships, you have those tough conversations. Back to Clinton, did you see him when he came to Beaumont several years ago? He came to support Nick Lampson and he was as personable as you mentioned. Thousands of people out at LU to visit him. He took his time in the crowd and shook hands and took pictures. That was pretty special.
I was in the back.
We were out in the fan line.
I snuck in the back, but it was good of him to come.
I was volunteering on the campaign when Nick ran. When we moved to Beaumont, our dear friend, the Former Mayor, Bill White from Houston, was running for governor. That was my segue into volunteering in the political arena here in Southeast Texas. I volunteered for Mr. White’s campaign.
That was probably about the time when you were moving here.
That was many years ago when he was running. That is how I got involved with local politics as well. Every democratic election since 2010, I have participated on as volunteering anywhere from phone banking to block walking to cleaning the bathrooms at the headquarters. When I first worked on Mayor White’s campaign in Houston, I met him at a high dollar fundraiser. I didn’t have a high dollar but I was invited. I sat in a chair and I thought, “I’m going to sit here and whoever comes to visit with me, that’s who I’m supposed to meet.” I’m sitting next to this lady. She comes and she sits a little love seat on someone’s home. She sits next to me and we’re chatting it up. She’s talking about her children and I’m talking about my work. Mayor White comes out and he says, “I’m going to introduce you to my wife, Andrea.” It happened to be Andrea White. We’re sitting in this little love seat together, chatting it up. That began my first volunteer for Mr. White when he was running for mayor.We judge people base on our perception and our own experiences. Click To Tweet
When I went to the campaign office, it was a smooth machine. It’s the first time I’d ever seen the technology becoming a little more available. Everybody was scurrying around. A lot of younger folks and no one had time to tell me what to do. They said, “Go in the kitchen, get a soda, come back and we’ll find a spot for you.” When I went in the kitchen, there were dishes everywhere, pizza boxes. It was a mess. For me, the consummate homemaker, I began to clean the kitchen because that was the gift that I could bring that day. I always look for places to fill a gap. Sometimes it’s cleaning the kitchen and sometimes it’s sitting with the mayor’s wife or the president’s wife. That’s my whole experience as it relates to getting involved politically. It’s about finding a gap and filling a gap. I’ve always been behind the scenes. I’ve been very comfortable with that. I always like to support people. I consider myself a consummate encourager. I like to find out how people are into. I like to lift them up and do what I can to help them.
I can see that it seems genuine too. I like that. For those of you who don’t know Ava, she’s talking about supporting everyone and working hard and this grassroots effort. She’s our Democratic Party Chair here at Jefferson County and she didn’t lead with that. It’s important in your life and you’re proud of the position, I’m certain. You lead with the work.
It’s all about the work. It’s not about me in the position. It’s about me doing the work of the position for the people.
How long had you been the Party Chair for the Democrats here in Jefferson County?
When our former chair, Cade Bernsen, stepped down, he did a wonderful job taking our party to a nice level. He raised up $250,000 and did a great job in the combined campaign. He stepped down in October 2019. I was nominated along with someone else and I won the election by the precinct executive committee and I started serving November 6, 2019. I decided around December that I would go ahead and run for re-election to continue the work that we have started in the short amount of time that I’ve been able to serve.
What work have you all started?
It’s been very exciting. One that we’re excited about is we have formed the Texas Young Democrats.
I saw something about that online because I saw Richard Rosario. He worked for me when he was going through college. He set upfront out there and would translate for me. He’s a good kid.
Richard Rosario and Jackie Hernandez are leaders. I met them when I was the campaign manager for Bill “Bobo” Sam when he was running for council member at Orange. I would see them at all of the candidate forums behind the scenes, setting up tables, carrying in signs, talking up the candidate, reaching out to the people, working with the students at LU. I said, “Somehow, we’ve got to get a hold of these young folks because they are forces to be reckoned with.” I always identify a leader as someone who puts in the work, that is not looking to be in the forefront, that wants to get down and do whatever is needed for the cause.
Identifying them, when I was elected for party chair, I called them immediately and asked them to consider forming the Texas Young Democrats. That was in November 2019. We set a date for January kickoff and they got their group together. They formed the Texas Young Democrats. They elected their officers. That shows you what great leadership they have. They didn’t say, “We’re the president and we’re the vice president.” They got the group together and said, “Let’s nominate and elect officers.” That was powerful to me. That speaks volumes. They’re still participating but they didn’t feel like they had to be the ones running the show because they were the ones who helped spearhead the effort.
By the name, that sounds like a statewide organization.
It is a statewide organization. It takes ten members to charter and they’re rocking and rolling. We’re excited. We had a voter register training at the headquarters. It was a standing room only. You may have seen it in the paper. People were all over the place. It was great. People are ready to get involved. People care about our county. They care about our cities and they want to help make a change and help make a difference in a positive way. We had three of the State Senate candidates speak that night. We’ve had bake watch parties. We’ve had a lot of movement within the headquarters since November. We’ve had a lot of moving parts and a lot of wonderful things.
We’re getting ready for the election, having to work with our clerk, getting the polling locations established, making sure that we have all the filing system started November 9 through December 9. We’re making sure all of the candidates are filed properly and they are certified and getting everything to the Secretary of State website. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s an administrative position and so there are a lot of details that you have to attend to. In addition to that, we’re making sure the candidates are given all the resources that are available to them through the process of them running in the primary. Once the primary is over, we have the combined campaign where we work diligently to get our candidates elected. There are a lot of moving parts to that.
You said it much more nicely than I would. I would call it a thankless job because in some ways, you’re supporting the elected or the folks who are running for elected office. What people may not realize is your position is an elected position.
It’s an elected position and it’s a non-paying position. It clearly can be well over a 40-hour workweek with all the things that there are to manage. When we spoke with Bill White, my husband and I, he was telling us his experience as the county chair and he said, “It is a thankless job. No one pays attention to you. No one knows what the job is, but you have a lot of responsibility.”
They pay attention to when they need to.
I’ve appreciated that. Mr. Gilbert Adams was the chair when we moved here. He was a real go-getter. I’m proud to have part of his legacy on my campaign team. Gilbert Adams III is our treasurer for our campaign. To have that rich history attached to our campaign, it’s very humbling and I feel honored.
It provides practical help too from a continuity standpoint. I think Cade’s done a fine job from what I can see, although I don’t follow it real closely. He was the chair for a handful of years. I believe Mr. Adams was the chair for twenty or more long years. That continuity helps. I know Cade and his family will work with you as well or whoever. I guess if it’s elected, I’m assuming it’s a contested election.
It is a contested election. There are two other candidates running as well.
We’re here to talk about you. When you’re talking about a thankless job, I kept thinking, “You seem sweet. Are you sure you want this job?”
I love serving. I am a servant. I believe in setting the atmosphere in everything that I do. When it comes to dealing with people, it’s all about setting the atmosphere. It’s all about being able to accommodate that person’s needs and desires, to be able to understand what they are. You may not be able to meet them, but to be able to listen to them and be able to help them feel heard and understood and supported. To me, it’s very natural. Is it stressful? It’s very stressful because you have a lot of things depending on you and people looking for you for answers that you may not have. You have to be okay with saying, “I don’t know. Let me find out. Let’s see what we can do with this.” Fortunately, when Cade stepped down, he had good leadership in place. Maureen Guillory, our precinct secretary and Christina Crawford, our voters administrator, they took me right through everything I needed to learn. I’ve read through the rules of a County Chair position and I had the state’s resources for support. There are a lot of ways to help you get the things done that need to get done.
Some cynics would say, “This is politics. This can be a dirty job. It can be a mean playing field. You’re so sweet.” How does someone so sweet like you get to play with all the meanness? Are you tough enough?
Let me say this. Kindness is an invaluable asset to have in your arsenal because it sets up an opportunity to build relationships. When you’re building relationships, you have the opportunity to build trust. When you have to have those tough conversations, that trust is established so the person that you’re communicating with knows that you’re coming from a good place. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of all the yelling and screaming and everybody’s talking and nobody’s listening. I want to build a bridge where we can listen to each other like we did in the ‘70s. We called them rap sessions. We talked about ideals, principles, dreams, values and goals.
We disagreed but we still were able to have a glass of wine at the end of the day. I don’t drink but I’ll break bread with you. It’s time for us to listen with understanding. It’s time for us to be able to find that common ground. Let’s work towards that. Let’s make things happen. The human condition, we all want the same thing. We want fresh air, water, shelter and healthy relationships. We all want the same thing, but the way that we receive it and the way that we believe it should be can be different. We all want the same thing. How can we work together to allow ourselves to be accommodated in ways that are meaningful for us without infringing on other people’s belief of how they should have it? I’ll tell you why I’m a Democrat. I’m a Democrat because we believe that everyone deserves a fair shot.
We do understand that in that belief system, there is still room for growth. We know that there’s still oppression and suppression. We know that equality and justice for all is not completely lived out on a daily basis. We know that there are opportunities for growth in those areas. What we as Democratic party believes in is what we can do to assist in equality and justice for all. That’s why I’m a Democrat. In this position of County Chair, I am seeking to recruit and retain qualified candidates. I want to represent the values of the Democratic party, reflect those values in everything that I do and in the way that we interact with others. Retain, recruit qualified candidates for our party and to raise funds. We don’t like to talk about finances, but it’s an exchange. We have to have that. I was saying at our campaign kickoff, if I could get everything with the hug, I would have everything I wanted. I’m a good hugger.
Me too, but I like it more if you pull out the checkbook.
I like that. You’re speaking my language. Am I tough? I’m strong. I’m smart. I’m capable and I’m going to take on stuff. I grew up in a house of five girls and one boy. He’s amazing. He survived us all. I don’t see things from a perspective of right or wrong. I see things as, how can we be effective? What can we get done? We’re sitting in this room right now. From where I sit, I see your photos on that back wall from where you sit. If someone came in and ask us, “What did the room look like?” You would have one perspective and I’ll have another. Are we wrong? No.
I see a Bobby Kennedy poster and then I see Nixon on a poster. I see Obama and Roosevelt. It’s funny too because I generally collect some of that memorabilia for fun. People will see it and they try and get a rate. That’s normal. If you look at it, it’s pretty hard to get a read.
That’s the thing. We judge people based on our perception and our own experiences. What I hope to do is create opportunities for us to begin. When I say us, I mean Jefferson County within our own Democratic party and within our entire community. Opportunities where we can have expressions and still have respect. That’s part of my goal. The whole kind thing, I’ve had people say, “Ava, you got to be tough.” No, I don’t have to be anything other than who I am. That’s it. I’m a kind person and I’m not going to let anyone steer me from being that. I have my moments and I always tell people, “Don’t ride in the car with me. You’ll see something that would surprise you.” Kindness is such a free gift to give that is valuable in its impact. Am I nice and kind? Most of the time. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a lot of things. My perspective on life has changed. I’m a hospice chaplain, so I deal with end of the life issues. I see families at their most vulnerable moments. I see daughters at bed saying, “Daddy, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I love you more.”
Families that have had divided issues on their political views. I’ve seen a woman on her death bed say how she fell about her president. She’s passing away and that was so meaningful and passionate that she got that final message out for her children who may have been on the other end of that to receive that. At the end, none of us get out of this alive, as far as we know. Whatever your faith or tradition is or isn’t, what happens when you die, we have that constitutional right. With me dealing with end of life issues and families in their most vulnerable positions, chronic incurable diseases, it changes it. When you’re dealing as a Party Chair, people are looking to you for answers to how are we going to get things done. There are going to be times when you have to facilitate some of those tough conversations that we’re talking about.
Some of those times when people are going to say things to you and about you that aren’t true. My role is not to try to go out and correct people from hearing whatever they hear, any disingenuous things that are being said about me. It’s not my job. Especially within our party, if there are issues, I’m not going to put that in the press. We’re going to have a conversation within the house and we’ve talked about that already. I’ve already let our candidates know when we had our ballot pool that remember we’re not running against each other, but we’re running for our county and that people are counting on us. This election is bigger than all of us. It’s not about us. It’s time for a change. I believe that there’s a time for changing of the guards. I believe that we need to look at what our future holds for those who are coming behind us. What does it look like for our elders? What does it look like for those who are disenfranchised? It’s a presidential election. That’s huge. Everything starts locally. You have to have a foundation. When you build a house, you have to have a solid foundation. I’m hoping to educate people in our community, the importance of voting for local in local elections. There’s a lot of work to be done. I’m probably rambling. I’m very passionate about that.
It comes through and that’s what’s exciting. What’s exciting if nothing else, it’s your passion and you’re excited to do it, which amazes me. We’re all cut differently. Nothing would sound worse to me than to be a Party Chair of any party in any county, for me personally. That may be because with three kids, wife, a business and interest, I couldn’t do a good job at it. I know that. That’s probably a lot of it and number two, I probably don’t have the patience, but you strike me as having the patience to show and it requires that.
I’m no saint. I have my places of release like most people do. I am a life coach, a pastoral care Eucharist minister. I’ve had a lot of training and experience in spiritual care and emotional care. I had a company once called The Emotional Factor, where we taught that or promoted that the IQ will get you the job, but the EQ will get you the promotion. I understand the human condition. My late father was a psychologist. I read a lot of his books. I’m a people watcher. When I go to events, I don’t pay attention to the event as much as I pay attention to the people. When my husband comes home from an event, he knows the questions I’m going to ask. Who was there? What were they all wearing? What was the food like? What was the atmosphere? Did they have flowers? Those are the things that I’m going to want to hear about. I draw understanding about everything else from that perspective.
You said this is a big election and I understood what you’re talking about. It made me think at least for your party, this is a big election because it’s going to be effective. I know you’re the County Party Chair now, but you’ve got the two-month head start on if you keep it or you’ve got a few months in and then somebody else if you don’t win the election. Someone’s going to have to hit the ground running because they’re not going to have the benefit of a year or two to get their feet wet on the job before a presidential election, which tends to drive a larger volume of voters. That’s important to the party because effectively you’ve had two people in that position for many years. That makes it important if nothing else.
There are systems and protocols in place. That’s very helpful in the process. The key to the success of this position from my perspective is how you are in dealing with relationship. Rules, regulations and all those things, they’re set in place. How you help facilitate that with the people that you’re responsible to, which are the candidates and the constituents of Jefferson County?
I’d like to think I can’t touch everyone and have a big effect because I can’t do it. I can focus on having an effect when I touched that person in front of me and have that positive effect. I’m not always like that. I have a very adversarial job at times, but I still try to have respect for folks because ultimately that’s what we’re all looking for. I can give someone respect even in the face of not respecting their position. That’s going to help bridge a gap if needed. If nothing else, I’m going to be proud of how I held myself. I’ve gotten better.
The room for improvement is the biggest room in the house.
The election will take place in March?
Early voting is February the 18th and the election is March 3rd. I want to encourage people to go to this link. Our county clerk shared that 25,000 county voters have been suspended. That’s a very daunting number. If you go to TeamRV-MVP.SOS.Texas.gov. You can find out if you’re registered to vote, especially if you haven’t received your orange 2020 registration card. You want to make sure that you and your family members are registered to vote for the upcoming election.
I got one in the mail a while back, so I know I’m good.
We want to make sure that we’re sharing information to help our community. We have those who have been displaced as far back as Harvey and then Imelda. We have a lot of recovery going on in our community. This is a time for healing and soothing and coming together. Even in that process, that’s going to be painful. You can’t drive a car without a negative and positive post. That’s the polarity of life. It’s going to be tough. I’m not sitting here thinking everything’s going to be roses and butterflies. I know that. I know it’s a tough journey. Being the first African-American female in the history of Jefferson County Texas County Chair, that speaks volumes about Jefferson County. I stand on the shoulders of many of my she-roes. Get Williams-Wright was one of my she-roes. She was my church member and my friend. She was super cool.
She was my favorite council member.
She put me to work. She said, “Ava, I want you to see how things work.” She appointed me to the planning and zoning. She appointed me to the community block grant. Jamie Smith, when he was the city council, appointed me to the Conventions and Visitors Bureau. When he became a district clerk, Robin Mouton took his place. She replaced me, but Mayor Ames reappointed me to the CVB conventions, the Conventions and Visitors Bureau. I filled my two-term position as the Chair of that board. I say that we do look forward to new leadership and younger leadership, but we want leadership that has had some experience. Someone that has been given the opportunity to see how the city works like Get did with me and the mayor and others put me in these positions to be able to build relationships, to understand how things operate. For that, I feel very prepared.
I don’t know if that’s what her goal was when she did this for me, but she always would say, “Ava, you got to serve. When you feel tired and feel that you’ve served and done everything that you can do, just do one more thing.” That was what I always heard she’s saying to me. She never felt like she did enough. She always felt like there was more to do and I would watch her work tirelessly. With that being said, I encourage the younger participation of our city like Jackie Hernandez and Richard Rosario. I want to see them appointed to these boards and these different committees that the city holds and that they can get that experience. They can see how things work and then launch them into service. Not just launching you because you have good ideas, good thoughts and good education, but you have to put in the work. That’s how I got elected because. I’ve been doing the work and I’m going to continue to do the work.
Think back 40 years ago when you were a young girl and in school getting your education, did you ever think you’d be a politician?
You don’t come across as a politician.
I’m not a politician.
I’m going to throw that mean word on you, that nasty word on you.
I don’t think politician is a nasty word. When we serve in any type of position, what we bring to it speaks to what that is for us. I don’t look at it as the politician. I look at the behaviors as my father would say, “Ava, you’re a good girl and I love you. I’m not mad at you. I don’t like that behavior.” It’s the behavior.
I’ll say this, I do find you a fresher breath there. I do like your spirit, your attitude and your approach, and it’s your life approach that you’re taking on under this new work. I like hearing that because I had been around a lot of politicians. I was joking when I said it as a bad word. I’ve got friends who are. It can be different. I’m going to be nice. For some of them, but sometimes it ends up being almost transactional in nature. I don’t mean the quid pro quo cup stuff, but it’s transactional. You can probably tell I’ve had a lifelong interest in all this stuff but the last few years, I’ve checked out. I don’t watch the news. I don’t read about it and I’m taking a break. It makes me happy to see the excitement on your face and to hear what you’re about. I appreciate that. The big question is what’s Rodney think about all this?
He’s been very supportive. I would not have decided to run without his support. That means a lot to me. It impacts our household. Of course, we talked about it and he was able to point out some things to me like, “Ava, you know how you are when your checklist changes or how would that look for you participating in all the other things that you’re involved in.” He asked the real questions, the tough questions. We were very delayed in making our decision because we wanted to make sure that this was a commitment that we could make for two years. Of course, I didn’t participate in my campaign until after all of our candidates were posted on the ballot because my first job was to make sure the candidates were taken care of. There was no way that I could even focus on starting a campaign for myself. Also, I needed the candidates to know whether I serve up until the election or they’ll re-elect me. You can trust me. You can trust that I’m going to put you first and I’m going to put our party first. I did my job first. I did my commitment. I said I would do it and I did.
If someone wanted to know more about you or how to get involved, how do they find you?
You can go to our Facebook page, Re-elect Ava Graves, Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair. Also our website, VoteAvaGraves.com. You can call me. My number is (832) 878-6499. You can call me or text me. I have a personal Facebook page, Ava Graves. I’m all over the place.
I’m excited to have met you and I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I see you. One last time, voting’s on March when?
The election is March 3rd, early voting is February 18th through February the 28th.
I think that’s how it goes now. It’s gotten to where most folks vote early.
Most people vote early. They say elections are won with early voting. I have siblings that election day is very meaningful for them.At the end, none of us get out of this alive. Whatever your faith tradition is when you die, that's your right. Click To Tweet
I tried to do that. I only early vote if it starts approaching and I see that there’s a potential conflict on that day. I’ll do it but I like it.
We have over 30 polling places this time. Also at LU, there has a polling place at Lamar as well. That’s very exciting. I was the consummate vote on election day person until one election. I got tied up at work and then traffic and I missed my opportunity to vote. I said never again will that happen. That was something that was totally out of my control. I’m like, “No, I’ve got to get to the polls.” My husband and I treated it as a date. Since being married, we go together and we got to make sure he gets his sticker. He’s a stickler about that sticker.
It’s been a treat for me. I hope for you as well. Thanks for having you on, Ava. Go check her out if you’re interested and if you want to know more. She’s an open book and wish her luck. If you’re in Jefferson County, no matter what party you voted or who you voted for, get out there on February 18th through March 3rd. Thanks again. Let’s do it again.
Thank you so much. This was wonderful.