Odessa Kelly

For U.S. House Representative, TN-07

Portrait ofFor U.S. House Representative, TN-07
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Position Sought

U.S. House Representative, Tennessee's 7th Congressional District

Party Affiliation

Democrats

Date of Primary Election

May 3, 2022

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Odessa was born and raised in Nashville. She grew up on the East Side in a community struggling with poverty, substance abuse, and gun violence because of political neglect and policy failure. With guidance from her family and mentors, Odessa followed in the footsteps of her father as a civil servant. She worked in Nashville’s Parks and Recreation department leading the Napier Community Center for more than a decade. Odessa now has two kids and lives in Inglewood as the co-founder and Executive Director of Stand Up Nashville. She is a member of the historic Mount Zion Baptist Church. 

After nearly 14 years as a civil servant, Odessa had seen how young people at her community center were racially profiled by the police, how gentrification hurt residents with the deepest ties to the community, and how current leadership failed to deliver for the people who needed it most. Knowing she could do more for her community beyond her work at the community center, Odessa co-founded Stand Up Nashville in 2016 and took on big fights for racial and economic justice. When city officials gave the richest man in Nashville $275 million to build a soccer stadium, Odessa fought for a legally binding agreement that would return investment to the communities most heavily impacted by the stadium, ensuring 20% of all housing built at the development site would be Affordable and Workforce Housing, stadium workers would be hired directly and paid $15.50 an hour, and sliding-scale child care facilities would be provided.  

When a tornado ripped through Nashville in March of 2020, Odessa petitioned to establish long-term community revitalization and economic recovery efforts to protect Nashville’s Black communities from further gentrification. Just weeks later, the pandemic hit and Odessa organized around the CARES Act to fight for funds to go directly to residents and small businesses most impacted by the pandemic.  

In 2019, Odessa received the National Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Award for her work fighting for justice for working people, housing justice, and racial equity. She was also a National Courage Award recipient, Nashville Scenes 2018 Activist of the Year, and was awarded the Human Rights Rising Advocate award in 2018.    

As she built her life and career in Nashville, Odessa saw the ways in which the system had failed her as a working class, gay Black woman and her community. Odessa saw real estate developers profiting off gentrification push her neighbors out of the communities they had spent their entire lives in. She saw firsthand that the dream of shared prosperity they were promised was no longer within reach. Odessa graduated from Tennessee State University, earned her Masters degree in Public Service at Cumberland University, and was working to the bone — but the system still wasn’t working for her or her community.