ST. LOUIS -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) may be losing out to Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton with minority voters, but three Ferguson activists he invited to speak at an Illinois rally Friday say they're definitely "feeling the Bern."
Bruce Franks, the founder of 28 to Life, an organization that focuses on youth empowerment and police relations with communities, talked about losing his brother to gun violence at the packed rally inside Southern Illinois University Edwardsville basketball stadium.
“In 1991, my brother, Christopher Harris, was 9 years old when he was killed. He was used as a human shield," said the 31-year-old, before announcing his run for Missouri state representative of the 78th District.
“Senator Sanders knows that the root cause of violence is lack of jobs, education, and resources.”
Franks told The Huffington Post that he wanted to run as state representative because he recognized the need for changes from the legislature.
“We’ve been out here in the fight since day one," said the Riverfront Times Best Activist of 2015, gesturing to his fellow activists. "I’ll continue to fight. I’ll continue to be an activist, but I figured the next road for solution was changing things from the inside."
Cori Bush, another activist-turned politician, spoke at the rally about being tear-gassed in Ferguson and the importance of standing against social injustice.
“For some reason, my round hips and my dark skin says that I must make less money than my counterparts and I don’t understand that,” said the single mother, ordained pastor and nurse, who is running as a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.
She wants to “eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline” and said that her platform echoes much of Sanders’.
“All three of us were Ferguson activists. That said a lot more to me because it’s the new civil rights movement”
Black Lives Matter activists have interrupted several presidential candidate campaign events, including one for Sanders, and a protester interrupted Clinton during a private fundraising party last week.
“Can I talk and maybe you can listen,” Clinton said to her, before the activist was escorted out.
By contrast, the activists who spoke at Sanders’ rally on Friday were well-received.
Alisha Sonnier, the president of Tribe X, the grassroots activist organization born out of the Ferguson protests, compared Clinton to an old pair of shoes that are loved, but can give calluses, as she urged voters at the rally to canvass for Sanders.
“I never thought that someone would invite me -- someone who’s well-known for shutting things down and for being involved in Ferguson. But to me, it’s a step toward the right direction,” the 20-year-old student told HuffPost after her speech in front of thousands of cheering Sanders supporters.
Bush said that it was significant that he had three African American people speak before he came up. "All three of us were Ferguson activists. That said a lot more to me because it’s the new civil rights movement,” she said.
Rachel Germann, 32, of Sycamore Hills, Missouri, who also attended Friday’s rally, said although she isn’t black, the Black Lives Matter movement is the one of the most important parts of Sanders’ presidential platform to her. “I live close to Ferguson and it’s a big deal to me,” she said.
The Missouri and Illinois presidential primary election is on Tuesday, March 15.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the state congressional district that Franks is running for. It is the 78th, not the 79th. The story also included a mistranscription of Cori Bush's remarks. She said "round hips," not "brown lips."