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"When we went off the air, I said to Mr. Brooks, 'Why, sir, are you running for the 6th District? Because in my eyes, you're No. 1. Why can't you run for 1st District?' " Reed says, chuckling. "That was my introduction to politics." (The next day, Reed, who now co-hosts Voices From Midtown, tells the same story verbatim to his listeners while celebrating Brooks' 81st birthday.)
"Seeing Mr. Brooks' stature in the community, but then having come to know him, it was quite the rewarding experience," Reed says. "He really, really took me under his wings."
Brooks, who served two City Council terms, says his protégé's success stems from his ability to bridge old and new philosophies.
"Anybody who's old–time in politics, he meets with them," Brooks says. "He hears them out. Some older people think they have all the answers."
Reed's other mentor, David Ross, a now-retired former senior vice president at Bank of America, helped ensure that he got into the University of Missouri. Ross, 74, was drawn in by Reed's natural speaking ability, which he showcased as a spokesman for Project AIM, a high school mentoring program sponsored by Ross' bank.
"Jermaine, as was his passion and skill, was really good at talking to peers," Ross says. But he wasn't close to the honor roll. "He had some shortcomings. He wasn't educated properly. It wasn't all the teachers' fault; it was partially Jermaine's fault."
Ross paid for tutors and pushed Reed to improve his ACT score.
"I just basically became Jermaine's education coach," Ross says. "He needed a dictionary, so we bought it."
Reed's ACT score improved, and Ross helped him find scholarships and student loans, and lobbied the University of Missouri's admissions office on his behalf.
"I told the university people when they were looking at taking him into the school, 'He's going to be voting on your appropriations in the future,' " Ross says.
Reed graduated from Mizzou with a political science degree in May 2006. That August, he moved to Washington, D.C., hoping to find work on the Hill. (In 2005, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II had nominated Reed for the Congressional Black Caucus Institute's political boot camp.) Reed parlayed his previous experience into a clerical job with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Reed returned to Kansas City in 2009, and in 2011 he ran in the 3rd District primary against incumbent Sharon Sanders Brooks and lawyer Michael Fletcher. The day before the February primary, an appeals judge ruled that Fletcher shouldn't appear on the ballot due to the candidate's primary residence being in Long Beach, California.
Despite the ruling, Fletcher appeared on the ballot and finished second with 34 percent of the vote. (Brooks won with 38 percent.) Reed came in third but advanced to the general election because of Fletcher's disqualification.
"It was a rough race," says Bianca Tillard-Gates, Reed's close friend from childhood and campaign treasurer. "I said, 'I'll support you no matter what. But don't fuck it up.' "
In the March 22 general election, Reed crushed Brooks, 65 percent to 35 percent.
"If you look at the percentages, it almost looks like a landslide," says Tillard-Gates, granddaughter of barbecue big shot Ollie Gates. "In my mind, I was expecting a much tighter race because people might be thrown off by his youth. I think that might have led to some people's animosity.