Presidential candidate Julían Castro said Wednesday that he shaped his policy perspectives, including those involving racial inequality, from his own life and his own family, including watching his mother Rosie Castro, “a hellraiser,” who was part of the Mexican-American civil rights movement. 

“[She] understands that it’s not enough to talk about progress,” he said. “We have to work to make it.”

Castro expressed ways he would work to make progress in America when he took the stage in Detroit on Wednesday morning during the 2019 NAACP Convention to answer questions spanning everything from white nationalism to gentrification. The former mayor of San Antonio was one of 10 candidates, including fellow Texan and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who had about 10 minutes of one-on-one time with interviewer April Ryan to get his campaign stances out to a predominantly black audience.

Castro touted his status as the first presidential candidate to release policies focused on the black community, a fact first pointed out by Ryan. He is the only candidate with a police reform plan to address “over-aggressive policing” that disproportionately targets racial minorities. The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development included combating racial segregation in his affordable housing plan, and has a policy to eliminate lead exposure in water, stemming from the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where more than half of the total population is black. The city still does not have clean drinking water since dangerous levels of lead were detected in 2015.

Castro said his plan to eliminate lead as a public health threat would pour billions of dollars into fixing the problem. He acknowledged that funding would probably involve raising taxes – but he proposed raising the top marginal tax rate to create a solution. 

“For the last 40 years we’ve been asking more and more of people who are middle class and working poor and poor, and less and less of people that are doing very well and people at the very top,” Castro said. “I would raise the top marginal tax rate. I would close these loopholes that lobbyists over the years of special interests have worked into the tax code. I would look for creative ways to raise revenue … so we can do what we need to do so everyone can prosper in our country.”

Castro also said if elected, he would resume monitoring and preventing domestic terrorism, a program that the Trump administration disbanded in 2018.

“We’ve seen the rise of white nationalism and these identity politics of the alt-right that the President is stoking, that he’s building his career on,” Castro said. “That’s what’s happening in America today, just to be clear about it. I would make sure that the Department of Justice is focused on rooting that out and prosecuting individuals who engage in that type of activity, whether it’s low-level criminal activity or more serious criminal activity, and taking it seriously throughout the administration.”

Castro also referred to his experience as HUD secretary to inform his perspective on gentrification. He said people with whom he spoke wanted to stay in their respective neighborhoods and watch them improve instead of being displaced. Castro stressed there needed to be programs in place to ensure residents weren’t forced out because of an inability to keep up with rising rent.

“The other part of it, though, is for folks who want to move into other neighborhoods that they’ve been locked out of traditionally,” Castro said. “At HUD, we were working … to ensure people could move into those neighborhoods too. Because you all know too often times people are blocked based on the color of their skin from being able to live in certain places. We need to fix that too.”

Castro implemented new rules as HUD secretary to encourage integrating local housing, requiring places that receive HUD funding to study racial bias in housing. As San Antonio’s mayor, he championed development in the Eastside of San Antonio, a historically black community.

“I’m proud to have an agenda that is resonating with the black community because it’s substantive and it’s based on the work I’ve done before,” Castro said.

Castro will take the debate stage later this month for the second round of Democratic candidate debates. 

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.