At 19, she's barely old enough to vote.
But Mary-Pat Hector of Lithonia, Georgia, says her aspirations are much bigger than her age and she's hoping Tuesday's election is another step in her journey.
Hector, a Spelman College sophomore, is the youngest candidate in the race to fill one of five seats on the city council for the newly formed City of Stonecrest. Getting on the ballot, however, hasn't been easy.
An opponent challenged her candidacy, questioning her eligibility based on her age. Georgia law requires candidates to be at least 21 years old unless a city charter specifically makes an exception. The DeKalb County Board of Registration and Elections ruled that Hector could run because the city's charter doesn't specifically mention an age restriction.
Hector said her age shouldn't be an issue.
"Just because I'm young doesn't mean I lack experience," she said.
Hector is not a stranger to politics or community organizing. At 15, she founded the nonprofit Youth in Action USA, which works to mobilize young people to solve problems in their communities. She's also served as national youth director for Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, as a youth leader for Hillary for America's Millennial Victory Council, advocated for criminal justice reform with the Obama Administration and worked with Cities United on safety issues in minority communities.
"The biggest thing is just getting people to see more than just the age, and more about the vision," Hector said. "And the fact that young people can govern."
Hector, who is studying political science and comparative women's studies, said she's happy her candidacy has sparked debate.
"It's time for young people to step up to the plate and do something to fix the problems they see in their communities," she said. "Instead of waiting for someone to save us, to save our community, why can't we address our own issues and run for the same offices that older people seek."
The other candidates in the council race are former Atlanta police investigator Geraldine Champion; former DeKalb County School Board member Jesse "Jay" Cunningham; Jonathan "JP" Phillips, a homeowners' association chief; and George Turner Jr., president of the county's District 5 Community Council, who challenged Hector's candidacy.
Cunningham, 58, applauds Hector's initiative, but notes enthusiasm alone is not enough. He said he wants to make sure Stonecrest works with the county and state to enhance the city's footprint.
"I'm glad to see that we have someone, who at an early age is taking the lead to get involved in governing," he said. "But at the same time, sometimes you need to sit and learn and build a foundation and work your way up from there."
Champion, at 76, said she believes Hector is "a smart young lady" but not quite ready to take on such a leadership role. "Maybe in the next four to five years, she will be right for politics," she said. "Right now, politics are so dirty it will just chew her up and spit her out. She needs to live awhile longer and get that under her belt."
Neither Phillips nor Turner responded to email requests for an interview.
Hector said several people have told her she "should wait my turn" but she doesn't embrace that philosophy.
Hector said Stonecrest was formed to create economic development. "But a city that centers on economic development won't happen if we don't educate our kids or curb violence. The vision I have for the city is much bigger than just sitting back and waiting my turn. Things need to happen now."
Stonecrest, a city of about 50,000 residents, covers most of southeast DeKalb County, including areas near Lithonia and Stonecrest Mall.