Saying her campaign is bringing a message of love and that family tragedy has given her strength, Garden City native Kali Barnett brought to Hays on Monday her campaign to represent the Big First Congressional District.

Hays was the fifth stop in the Democrat’s campaign announcement tour. A little more than 20 people were in attendance at the hour-long event in the Fort Hays State University Memorial Union organized by the Young Democrats.

Barnett said she has gained support of Kansas Democrats including former Gov. John Carlin and 3rd District Rep. Sharice Davids, but has not yet had a chance to meet with Gov. Laura Kelly or former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Barnett started Monday’s event by telling the crowd about her childhood in Finney County. The daughter of a third-generation farmer, she started singing in church at the age of 5. She said she found using her voice was a way to spread joy.

But family tragedy gave her strength, she said, telling of her father’s death from a heart attack in 2001 when she was 17. The owner of the land her family farmed had decided to sell. Her family filed bankruptcy and just days after her father’s funeral, sold the farm equipment.

It’s a pain that is still with her, Barnett said.

“I know how hard my father worked. I witnessed it every single day. And I know how hard our Kansas farmers work, and I want you to know that I will take that pain, and I will move it forward and use it in a positive way. I’ve done it my entire life,” she said.

Barnett said she faced more turmoil in her first job as a music teacher in Wichita during Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.

She said as music programs in public schools became targets of reduced funding, she began going to town hall meetings, school board meetings and calling her own meetings to advocate for the programs.

She eventually moved to the New York City area for teaching jobs, but after the 2016 election and watching teacher strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma, decided to move back to Kansas to make a difference.

“I’m telling you my story because … the First District of Kansas deserves to have someone that you want to sit across the table from, know and be able to have an honest conversation, and then know that they are going to fight for you,” she said.

“I’ve never lost sight of my roots,” she said, adding she is proud of her work in New York and it made her realize the issues facing education are nationwide.

Barnett also spoke of needing common-sense solutions to issues such as immigration and violence, as well as support for teachers and students and improvements in infrastructure.

“Imagine if we had trains like they do in Europe that would take us from Hays to Garden City to Emporia to Manhattan. Imagine how that would change our healthcare needs, especially if it were extremely affordable,” she said.

Barnett said it also is important to address racism, and drew upon the cultural diversity of Garden City as an example.

“At this time, especially with the events that have happened in the last few days, this message is really important for me to share,” she said.

“It is up to us to look at the ugly face of racism. We need to love our neighbors, and for me that is inclusion. We support our veterans, our patriots, our LGBTQ citizens, our immigrant population. We love them and we support them. Hate is exclusion. Love is inclusion. And I want you to know that that is what this campaign is all about. We are spreading the message of love,” she said.

“We need to focus right now on spreading love, supporting our community members and demanding action. We need common sense solutions put in place today,” she said.