Black Mayors, Black Cities
In our opening conversation, Capital B Politics Reporter Chauncey Alcorn spoke with khalid kamau, mayor of South Fulton, Georgia, and Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Alabama. In this panel discussion, kamau and Woodfin spoke about the challenges Black mayors face, and the importance of growing Black businesses and homeownership in their communities.
Here’s a snippet of their conversation
Chauncey Alcorn: What changes are you guys implementing that will help support the growth of black businesses and homeownership in your communities?
khalid kamau: One, is just telling the story and making sure the facts are out there. The city of South Fulton has a 66% homeownership rate. It’s one of the highest homeownership rates across the nation, across all ethnicities. We have a median income that is $10,000 higher than Atlanta, it’s higher than most cities. One of the things that I’ve been talking about is, using those facts and our position next to the world’s busiest airport as the Blackest city in America, to become the economic capital of the African diaspora internationally. So that is something that I want to position our city to do. We are in a film that is debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival called “Rise And Rebuild,” where we really talk about how South Fulton and some other cities are on the cutting edge of building Black wealth and creating policies that do that.
Randall Woodfin: I think just adding to what the mayor said, what we’ve attempted to do is, first look within. I think we need to know, as a city and a municipal local government, what are we doing with tax dollars to show that we believe in inclusion and diverse spending. That diverse spending is in support of minority- and women-owned and Black businesses. In order to do that, we needed to start it with the disparity study. I actually launched a disparity study. This year we’ve just gotten those results. So as we come through those results, we know whatever that baseline is, it’s unacceptable. We’re now in a position to go back to the community and implement intentional design programs to increase our spending prior to when I became mayor.
The Next Wave of Black Leaders
From local to state to federal politics, the call for a change in the status quo has been loud — and Black Americans are answering. We talked to Mandela Barnes, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, about the changing landscape, and what he hopes to accomplish for his community during his time in office.
Barnes leads the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change and focused on highlighting his concerns about climate and health disparities in the Black community. Wisconsin has some of the highest disparities, in terms of air pollution, between white and Black Wisconsinites. Here is what Barnes had to say about why these disparities continue to exist:
“The reality is there’s been so much environmental harm because people feel like they can just get away with anything because there’s limited political power in these communities. Now, during my time in organizing, one of the biggest issues we had … actually, one of the first and biggest issues we took on by the time I got there was an energy provider, a utility company that was using coal-burning power plants. These coal-burning power plants were obviously in the most vulnerable communities. And I say obviously because there’s no way that more affluent communities would’ve put up with that. And the impact of these coal-burning power plants resulted in respiratory illnesses at a disproportionate rate for Black and brown and low income children.” — Mandela Barnes, lieutenant governor, Wisconsin
Real Solutions to the Racial Wealth Gap
Closing out the day, Gillian White, senior vice president for Capital B, spoke to economist Darrick Hamilton about systemic racism and the lack of access to important economic programs. The topic of reparations was discussed as an equity and wealth mechanism for a long time. We asked Darrick what would reparations look like in a way that would meaningfully change the wealth of the Black community? Here is what he had to say.
“Reparations are necessary, whether today is the political moment or tomorrow is the political moment. It’s necessary for a variety of reasons. It is the most direct … way to redress the racial wealth gap, period. If you literally just offer the resources in a way to redress it, then that can have a direct effect.”