BW Listening: Young Voters Seek Transformative Leadership With a New Vision in Birmingham Elections

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Emily Jones Rushing, BirminghamWatch

Facilitator Marie King, far left, moderates a discussion among young voters about the upcoming Birmingham city election during a BW Listening session.

Gentrification, inequity, urban blight.

Disenchantment, nothing, renaissance.

Ignorance, opportunity, room to grow.

Those were quick descriptions of Birmingham offered by young city voters asked for a picture of their town. The group included professionals and entrepreneurs, an educator and a college student, an AmeriCorps member and community workers. Most were in their 20s and 30s, and they came from voting districts across the city.

BW Listening hosted the session Monday to hear what is important to them in the upcoming mayor and council elections. The discussion, held at Social Venture in Woodlawn, was moderated by professional facilitator Marie King.

The tone was downbeat. Participants described a city without a vision to do “something transformative” and lacking an Atlanta-style sense of urgency and opportunity –  a place where leadership is in the hands of an old political guard not facing new challengers or grooming successors. Residents lack the knowledge and time to hold elected officials accountable in Birmingham; old inequities are still to be addressed; and women “can’t get an audience” with key players in city leadership, they said.

In the campaign, this group hasn’t found a voice of change to back. “I haven’t heard anything that seems to transform people’s lives,” one participant said.

But participants had ideas of things that need doing by those who want to hold office – or those who want to decide who’s elected.

The big issue not being addressed is crime, the group agreed. And city investment is not reaching neighborhoods in a way that supports those who’ve opted to live there.

Also on the suggested civic to-do lists:

  • Working with youth so that they become comfortable aspiring to leadership.
  • Allowing residents to make more decisions on neighborhood matters, rather than having programs or improvements presented to them.
  • Bolstering the economy so kids don’t feel they have to leave town to prosper.
  • Giving priority to Birmingham-owned businesses for city projects.
  • Fostering “true education.”

 

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