7 Hard Questions for the 2020 Presidential Candidates (and ourselves)

By Zakiya Jackson

Our nation is facing a spiritual and political crisis. With the 2020 Presidential Election right around the corner, it’s time once more to take inventory of our values as citizens and people of faith—and commit to electing leaders who reflect those values, and holding them accountable.


In my role as VP of Training and Resources for The Expectations Project you may have seen one of my recent webinars, like Inherently Unequal: Racism in Public Education. I consistently push myself and other people of faith to dig into hard—often painful—questions about our society and how we treat children and marginalized communities. Why are we here, how did we get here, what will we do to change the material condition of our people? 

And in an election year, how do we make sure those who want to lead our nation as President are being pushed and challenged with these hard, often painful, questions as well? 

At a recent 2020 Presidential Candidate Forum, I had the opportunity to do just that. 

Last month it was my honor and privilege to gather with other faith leaders for a Presidential Conversations Series brought together by the Black Church PAC and Pastor Michael McBride.

We heard directly from five candidates running for president in 2020. In addition, Pastor Traci Blackmon and I facilitated intimate roundtable conversations with the candidates. Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Cory Booker, Secretary Julián Castro, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg all participated in these gatherings with smaller groups of people; engaging hard questions and giving us a deeper look into the type of President they aspire to be. 

Here are seven examples of hard questions we asked the candidates on race and education:

  • Why do you believe that some people deserve to vote and others do not?
  • What are you going to do to address the trauma that children are experiencing in our communities? 
  • How are you going to disrupt the school to prison pipeline? 
  • Will you commit to ensuring that the people most impacted by the policies you want to enforce are advising you about said policies?
  • How are you going to close the economic wealth gap between black and white people? And how does your view of reparations intersect with your response?
  • How do I know that you are authentic? I’m not convinced yet from what I’ve seen of you. 
  • How will you address the rise of white supremacist violence in our country? 

Asking the hard questions is critical—yet we also have to push sometimes to get direct answers

The candidates had different ways of responding to these questions. One candidate paused for several seconds to contemplate the content they were being challenged with before responding humbly and compassionately. Another one of the candidates agreed with the injustice they were presented with, shared what they knew about it, and then offered a way forward. Yet another seemed unsure of how to contend with some of the questions. 

My point is that hard questions render all sorts of responses. I believe it’s our responsibility as people of faith to keep pressing in and to speak clearly and boldly what we see and believe. Our questions need answers – they need good, strong, equitable answers. And the answers should inform our votes, donations of our money and our time, and our advice to those around us.

Sometimes asking hard questions can be intimidating. Growing up in a home, for example, where, “cause Daddy said so,” was a common response to my inquiries, I’ve had to teach myself that I have the right to ask questions of those with more apparent power than me. 

It is not rude, unkind, or disrespectful to hold our leaders accountable, even when it is awkward. 

If asking hard questions intimidates you – then ask yourself why! Dig into the conflict it brings you. As we challenge ourselves, our courage grows. I encourage you to find, watch, and follow people who can help you and inspire you. 

We have a lot of work to do to see our government rise up in the ways we need it to – and as people of faith – we must remember the authority that we have to ask and demand more from elected officials. 

I am not telling you who to challenge or who to vote for. I’m telling you to challenge any and everyone who wants the privilege of representing you. In the words of many a wise auntie, “you betta ask somebody!” 

Those words hold true whether that somebody is running for your local school board, mayor, Congress, or to be the President of the United States.

Do you have additional examples of questions that we should be asking our elected leaders? We would love to know your thoughts! Let us know in the comments below:

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