Ward 5 Jackson City Councilman Charles Tillman's soft-spoken approach doesn't immediately give the impression of former middle-school principal.
A public-school administrator and counselor for more than 30 years, Tillman served decade-long stints at both Rowan and Brinkley middle schools in Jackson. He spent more than his fair share of hours as a student before becoming a principal.
After earning his bachelor's degree in business education from Alcorn State University in 1958, Tillman earned a master's degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Southern California in 1962. After USC, he studied a semester at Atlanta University, and took post-graduate classes at the University of Notre Dame and at Jackson State University.
"That's the reason I preach education now—because I had a love and passion for education," Tillman told the JFP at his City Council headquarters at the corner of Rose and Central streets.
Tillman, a father of two, was also an active volunteer before being elected to the Council in 2005.
Outside of his duties as an educator, Tillman received the Governor's Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Voluntary Community Service in 1981 and also the National Council of Negro Women's Appreciation Award for Outstanding and Dedicated Service.
Now the Jackson City Council's vice president, Tillman often pushes for more tools and technology in schools and libraries to help move education forward in the city.
City redistricting is a big issue right now, with four different maps on the table (see inset, right) Which option do you support?
I haven't really made up my mind, but the first two catch my attention more than the last two.
Chartre Consulting LTD, of Oxford, proposed a mixed-income housing development on Dr. Robert Smith Parkway near Jackson State University. The 150-plus-unit development received mixed reviews from citizens during a series of public meetings about it at Koinonia Coffee House. An action group, Best 4 West, even sprang up with the sole goal of stopping the housing development.
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Why is that?
I think the first two will give us an opportunity to look at the population (and) spread the population more evenly, taking in consideration the presence of council persons and their input, and being fair.
Calvary Baptist Church is in your ward. What do you think its project to bring in a pediatric nursing facility will mean to Ward 5 and for the city?
It's definitely an economic piece in the first place. Number two, it's a great service to the young mothers and the young children in this area. It's a plus as far as health care for young people, too. It's a win-win situation.
Is that something that is really needed in the area?
Of course—most definitely. We have a lot of young mothers (and) young kids, and a lot of them need health care. It's unfortunate: You have a lot of teenage mothers. They don't have any type of insurance or anything of that nature. I think the more we nurture young mothers, maybe we can slow the birth rate down some—as they're in programs, and professionals are talking with them about the one child or the two children they have, and how to protect themselves as young mothers moving forward with the kids they have, as far as health care, education and all of that.
Another project in your ward is Chartre's proposed mixed-income housing development near Jackson State. There are a lot of people not happy with that proposal. What are your thoughts on it?
I'm not happy, either, simply because I've been around west Jackson and been involved in west Jackson since I've been in Jackson. I've been a part of all these proposed changes, even the original Main Street development, where they got those little medians leading up to (JSU). There's been all kinds of studies and proposals over the years.
We all got excited about the parkway that was going to open up the area between Jackson State and downtown Jackson, and give the university a better boost at being an urban university (that is) open, rather than closed (to the city.) To me, I'm not against low-income housing or low-income people, but the spirit of moving Jackson ahead and opening it up as an original plan, I think (the development) would be devastating to the future growth of downtown Jackson on this end, and the growth of Jackson State.
City Council members will vote on one of four ward-redistricting options Sept. 4. D.L. Johnson Consultants, led by state NAACP president Derrick Johnson, was the city's loan consultant on the redistricting project. All four options have identical boundaries for Ward 5.
You can see all four proposed maps, plus the current ward map, at jfp/ms/redistrictingoptions.
Kids like to play. When you say low-income, it generally houses young mothers with kids. How are you going to keep (the kids) enclosed? They said they are going to fence it and all that, but you can't keep kids off of the parkway. It's a public place. They're going to be out there with bicycles, tricycles and everything else. As soon as somebody's car gets hit, or some kid gets hit, it's a big problem. We have enough open spaces in Jackson, including west Jackson, that need development. We've got all of Capitol Street over by the Boys and Girls Club down on Bon Air (Street), where they've already started developing. It's ready and available. They could even go to that site.
I think (the proposal) would be just a bad move economically and especially for the future growth of Jackson State University.
What would you like to see done with the area?
As originally planned, to be a mixed-use to house people who work in downtown Jackson, Jackson State or whomever. Hopefully, a lot of staff at Jackson State would be a part of it, but if it's come just to low-income, that's going to stunt the group. You know how people feel about being around poor people. You might as well call a shot a shot.
Contact Jacob D. Fuller at Jacob@jacksonfreepress.com.