CP Photo: Brian Cook
Morgan Overton and Martell Covington
When Morgan Overton and Martell Covington met during their time at New Leaders Council of Pittsburgh in 2019, a friendship began. New Leaders, which describes itself as “the hub for progressive millennial thought leadership,” serves as a think tank for young progressives interested in leadership development.
The pair would reunite during their time at the Young Democrats of Allegheny County, the official affiliate of the Democratic Party for voters 18-40 years old in the county. Now, they serve as the Young Democrats president and vice president, respectively, the first Black people to hold these positions in the organization’s history.
“I would say we're a chocolate box. We do a whole bunch of different things,” says Overton. “A lot of our work entails networking events, teaching people about the political process really, and Martell was pivotal in holding judicial forums to demystify judicial races.”
Overton and Covington were announced as president and vice president on July 28. The path to the Young Democrats was natural for Covington, but not so much for Overton. Overton studied at the University of Pittsburgh for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, earning a bachelors in psychology and a masters in social work. Covington went to the historically Black Howard University and earned his bachelors in business administration.
Overton says she took her first foray into public affairs and public service in 2012.
“I served as an Obama for America fellow for his re-election campaign,” she says. “I was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh then, and I was studying psychology. Like I said, I didn't think I would end up being passionate about politics. It was just something I put on the side, but I don't know who does politics on the side?”
For Covington, he says he was always interested in politics.
“I've always had an interest in government and politics as far back as I can remember. I remember being in second or third grade and looking at encyclopedias and remembering the presidents and knowing who our governor was. And it was just something that I always had an interest in,” he says.
For both Overton and Covington, the 2008 and 2012 elections were important in forming their political histories. Overton says she got to vote in her first election in 2012; Covington in 2008. They both voted for or volunteered for the Obama campaigns in some capacity. Both Pittsburgh natives, Covington had to fill out an absentee ballot to vote in the Pennsylvania election but still says he felt the weight of the importance of the moment.
Being a spokesperson for the Young Democrats of Allegheny County is a job Overton and Covington both seem proud to inhabit. Their individual passion for the party and the work they do is evident, but they both acknowledge that people in Pennsylvania and beyond have suffered from a bit of disillusionment with the political process.
“During my speech for vice president, one thing that I said was that I want to make sure that inclusion, empowerment, and education are some of the things that we focus on through Young Dems because even people who I know personally have a distrust for politics based on bad experiences, based on things that they may have heard or learned, or, you know, just watching the news,” says Covington. “So I feel like it's important that us, being in this position, kind of change the narrative of politics in our region.”
Covington says that, when he first thought about joining the Young Democrats a few years ago, he visited the website and saw that there was no one who looked like him on their promotional materials. He decided then that it was a space where he wouldn’t feel welcomed or comfortable.
Overton added that much of the disillusionment with politics comes from just that sort of experience: not seeing politicians who look like you and have your specific needs and concerns in mind. She says being the first Black people to hold the president and vice president positions in the Young Dems is bittersweet.
“We're making history and that's beautiful, but it's 2021, right?” she says. “And apparently YDAC has been around, at least I've heard, since the 1980s. It's still murky.”
Both say they hope that early experiences like the one Covington had with Young Dems are a thing of the past now that they are in leadership positions.
“So for me to be the first Black male vice president, it's cool but it took a long time to get here,” says Covington. “While I'm honored to be the first, you know, there are so many other great people that have kind of done it before me. I want to just highlight that representation matters.”
Both seem very excited to get started in their roles, and to begin to help change the political landscape of Allegheny County.
“So our goal is to really build a pipeline of people from all diverse intersections to recognize that they do hold political power and they literally are the future,” says Overton. “It's not up to the status quo, but we can shift the culture. So this is bigger than just, you know, a little club that people are part of. This is really building a home.”
The Young Democrats of Allegheny County is currently looking to expand its membership, and for just $20 a year, the pair says those interested can join their efforts to build a more politically aware Pittsburgh. More information can be found on the Young Dems Facebook page: facebook.com/YDofAlleghenyCo.