“When you open a school, you close a prison,” is a quote by Victor Hugo, and the favorite of Gabriel Acevero, a 2011 UMBC alumnus, co-founder of the Political Science Student Association, and candidate state delegate in Maryland’s thirty-ninth district. Acevero’s campaign is focused on progression in healthcare, education and reforming the justice system.
After receiving his associate’s degree in international relations at Montgomery Community College, Acevero transferred to UMBC as a junior in 2009, and later graduated in 2011 with a degree in Political Science and Public Policy.
Acevero was greatly influenced by the life and story of President Freeman Hrabowski, and cites his professor Arthur T. Johnson as a “fair but firm man, who expected excellence from all his students.” Johnson gave guidance and advice to Acevero throughout his undergraduate career, and inspiring growth and challenging his thoughts during classes.
“Dr. Hrabowski also came from a working poor background, and the segregated south; then pursuing academia, pursuing higher education, and committing himself to molding the minds and the character of the next generation. I found that very influencing, and that certainly influenced the work I did at the time, and the work I do now,” said Acevero.
“UMBC not only offered me the education, but the space to be civically engaged, as well as the resources to mobilize students on issues important to our generation,” said Acevero. While on campus, his student organization PSSA, still active today, rallied behind issues of their time, advocating for paid sick leave, ruling against the death penalty and for passing gay marriage laws. In Maryland, paid sick leave was not passed until 2017.
Acevero today works as a labor organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers International Local 1994, representing workplace issues and advocating for legislation that impacts working class families, where he represents the majority of government employees from Montgomery County.
Some of his first direct involvement in local politics was working as an organizer for the Dream Act of 2011, a bill that gives financial relief to undocumented students, or those who fall under the Dreamer status. He also started work with Justice Reinvestment Act in 2012 that passed two years ago in 2016, which allocates funding to schools rather than incarceration.
Both of these pieces of legislation influence his campaign today. Of his many priorities, Acevero emphasizes the importance of protecting immigrant families and lowering incarceration rates through funding schools and promoting education.
“I think it’s very important for us to have a welcoming community, and protect immigrant families that may be living in fear,” commented Acevero, referencing the rhetoric against immigrants from the White House administration.
Maryland’s thirty-ninth district encompasses Montgomery County, a sanctuary county since 2005, and also includes non-municipal Gaithersburg, parts of Germantown and Clarksburg, and the town of Washington Grove. Montgomery County is the most diverse district in the United States. Acevero is an immigrant himself; he moved from Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.
From a young age, Acevero has been civically and politically engaged, attending a picket line protest with his mother, a public employee and union organizer who was fighting for better working conditions. He described his home as political debates filling every room, an important focus among members and a foundation to his career.
Throughout his campaign he has received many endorsements, including Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Council Vice President Nancy Navarro.
“I am proud to have endorsement of committed public servants,” Acevero said.
The historical potential is not lost on Acevero or his supporters; were he to be voted in as state delegate, he would be the first Afro-Latino voted in the office.
The Democratic closed primary for the delegate race is on Tuesday, June 26. Only voters that are registered as a Democrat or Republican can vote in each party’s respective primary to determine which candidate will move on to the general election, which will be on Nov. 6.