Manhattan City commissioner and mayor pro tem Usha Reddi is taking another step forward in her life.
With a background in teaching and serving constituents locally, she hopes to take it to the next level by becoming the first Hindu in the Senate and the first woman of color as a senator for the Sunflower State.
Earlier this week, Reddi officially kicked off her campaign, hoping to be a champion for the people of Kansas.
“Doing the launch is the easy part,” she said. “There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and it really invigorated me and energized me.”
Reddi said she always has the people in her mind when making decisions and wants to continue that if she is elected as senator.
Now, the real work starts, she said.
“It’s about talking to people, listening to people’s concerns,” she said.
Before announcing her run, Reddi weighed the decision, and talked with many people.
“They seemed to resonate with who I am, and what my message is,” she said.
In July, Reddi revealed publicly that she had been sexually assaulted as a child by her father, Venkata Rao Yeleti.
“I came out often. I told several people along my life, along the way,” she said. “When you’re a child, you’re a child. And it’s your family member, so you don’t want any of that retribution. You don’t know what to expect. And knowing that I had a family, I guess was more comfortable than knowing what I don’t have, what I might lose. So I didn’t do anything then.”
The abuse occurred in Winchester, Virginia, from about 1975 to 1977, according to court documents obtained by The Mercury. Reddi said she wanted to pursue charges in Ohio, where they lived during her childhood as well, but couldn’t because the statute of limitations in Ohio had passed.
In Virginia, however, the law allowed Reddi to move forward with charges.
Through a plea bargaining process, her father, who is 76 and lives in Texas, is serving one year in jail and has five years of supervised probation in Texas, Reddi said. He also loses his medical license and remains on the sex offender registry.
“As far as the case, I think it’s just important that these are scars people don’t see,” Reddi said. “And because they are invisible, they are actually more traumatic. But there are a lot of people who are just wonderful human beings, who have had all of this happen to them, who are living an everyday life, and that’s impressive.”
Reddi said she let her children know what happened 10 years ago. As a single mother at the time, she said her emotions were piling up.
“And that’s when they pulled me along to a decision to, ‘We need to do something,’” she said.
Although her children served as a great support system, Reddi faced backlash from some family members after disclosing what her father did.
“And I have to come to the fact that I’m not doing anything to him, he did something to me,” she said. “And they have to come to that position on their own. Most of them just have recently found out what was going on, whereas I lived with it for 40 years. So they have a lot more to digest. But it’s a very complex situation, for sure.”
She said after disclosing her past to the public, she had many people reach out to her about similar cases. Reddi said she hopes to help other people who have suffered from sexual assault.
“Nobody wants to be a victim — nobody,” she said. “And I think that needs to be clear also. I think I feel a whole lot of burden has been taken off of my shoulders, now that I can take on other peoples’ burden. And it doesn’t feel like a burden. It just feels like this is just another facet of my life. And I’m happy to be their voice.”
Reddi said it is never too late for sexual assault survivors to come out and have their voices heard.
“People should be believed when they do come out,” she said.
Moving toward 2020, Reddi, a Democrat, faces a competitive race in both the primary and general elections in replacing current U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, who is retiring.
Other candidates running on the Democratic ticket are former court services officer Robert Tillman, former U.S. Representative Nancy Boyda and Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas.
On the Republican side, Kansas Senate president Susan Wagle is running, as are several other prominent political figures such as former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost the race for Kansas governor to current Laura Kelly. State treasurer Jake LaTurner and former Kansas City Chiefs player Dave Lindstrom are also running. Bryan Pruitt, a conservative commentator, is also running.
Reddi said she feels representatives at the Senate level lose track of who they are representing.
“I’ve always had the people in my mind,” she said.