Beneta Burt stays so busy as executive director of the Jackson Roadmap to Health Equity Project that she didn't think she would have time to run for City Council. After several phone calls from supporters in Ward 3, however, she considered it seriously.
"Everybody ought to serve," she said. "I know I have passion, leadership skills and experience to do it. We need good leadership."
Her experience includes working for Gov. Ray Mabus in job-training programs. She also worked for the city of Jackson as deputy director of human and cultural services, so she is familiar with City Hall operations. The former president of the Jackson Urban League grew up in Oxford and graduated from Jackson State University in 1971. Later, she got a master's of public policy and administration in 1979.
Burt faces seven other candidates who also want to fill the Ward 3 seat that Kenneth Stokes left vacant when he won his Hinds County supervisor seat. The special election is Feb. 14.
Why are you running?
Ward 3 needs to be able to get the resources it needs. We are not taking about rocket-science stuff. The entire ward, from north to south, east to west, needs to have everyone engaged.
You do that with leadership.
One of the things we have to do is to be sure there is community inclusion. We can't exercise politics of divisiveness. It is time for a fresh start in Ward 3. After 23 years, we have an opportunity for Ward 3 to reap the benefits of other wards in the city. It can be a ward where kids are optimistic about opportunities offered them, where residents have access to good health, job opportunities and are contributing to the quality of life in the city.
How do you do that?
The Mississippi Roadmap to Health Equity is an example.
It really started with us saying: "Let's be proactive about our own health. We want to improve the health of the community."
With a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we provide free fitness training for food-service workers in schools. We have a farmers' market with prices lower so the community can afford it. These are real indications and proof of what we can do in the ward. There is proof--$5 million (in grants that Roadmap brought into Ward 3). We spent it in schools, on senior citizens, on young people and a recycling project for non-college-bound students.
What can you do about crime?
One thing is to find something for young people to do. Have them plant and cut flowers. Teach them that. Look at all the florists we have in the community.
Crime--it's so generic. It's like: How do you help with dilapidated houses? You have to look at who is committing these crimes, at what times. Before we solve it, we need to understand it. We really need to know what we are talking about.
Clearly, we want to work with the community and the Jackson Police Department on how we resolve issues. Clearly, it's an opportunity for young people to participate.
You are on the Jackson Redevelopment Authority board. How would that affect being on the Council?
The city and the JRA both have to make decisions based on thoughtful considerations. As a Ward 3 councilperson, I'd be working together with the council. Compromise does not mean that you lose. It means you work together for the common good.
What do you believe should be a budget priority? Is it infrastructure?
It should be services that the city provides residents. Keep residents healthy and safe and contributing to the economic development of the city so people want to visit, work and invest in it.
Our water system--that's a structural problem and one that just didn't happen yesterday. You can look internally for funds or externally through various grants. A grant writer should be writing grants all the time, not just for infrastructure but for community organizations.
I know it can happen. Churches are opening doors to more than just services. They can learn how to write grants for their organizations. When you bring people together and allow them to do it together, the potential is just so wonderful there.
Let's get positioned to help ourselves, and let's get the government to help also.
The Council reviews the spending docket. Are you looking forward to that?
I'd like to be thoughtful. The work includes the responsibility of a council member. That's my way of ensuring I'm doing due diligence.
What needs to be done about economic development in your ward?
We have new re-investments in Ward 3. The Medical Mall corridor will bring more jobs and opportunities. The Medical Mall is the economic-development engine right here in the heart of Ward 3. The Medical Mall is looking at Housing and Urban Development block (grant) money that comes specifically for the revitalization. We should offer pre-employment training how to get and keep a job. The City Council has a responsibility to make sure these things happen.
How do you reach residents?
Neighborhood associations. I was at a Georgetown Neighborhood Association meeting, and they are taking their neighborhoods back, street by street. They have a person on each block to identify broken windows or an abandoned home. This is proactively handling things. I already have relationships. I can find resources.
If neighbors help neighbors, collectively we could get together on a Saturday, cut the grass or whatever. Then we start feeling good in what we've done, and we can take pride.
Comment at http://www.jfp.ms. See jfppolitics.com for interviews with other Ward 3 candidates as we do them. We urge any candidate for this seat to reach out to Valerie Wells at 601-362-6121 ext. 21 to schedule your interview.