In the time you’ve lived in Ward 6, how has it changed—for better and for worse?
Well, I’ve been in South Jackson almost my entire life. My father and I lived at the Signature Square Apartments on Hospital Drive off of Raymond Road. Shortly after that we moved to the house I grew up in, which is right behind Wingfield High School, right in the heart of Ward 6. I grew up everyday going to the southwest YMCA on Flowers Drive by walking up the streets or riding my bike or getting a ride with my dad.
One of the major things that’s changed is that the southwest YMCA has closed. It’s the place that I grew up. It kind of nurtured me and it really supported me. I’ve really felt that it’s a microcosm of South Jackson. We’ve seen places where children used to go, local establishments, that have closed. We’ve seen our roads deteriorate into really just crumbling pieces. On a lot of our streets, we can pick up the pavement with or hands, and that’s just not something that South Jackson residents deserve. I’ve seen businesses leave. When I was growing up in high school, we had CiCi’s Pizza …that was a place that where kids could enjoy pizza for almost nothing and play arcades. After basketball games we’d go there and congregate. I think that South Jackson neighborhoods are very, very diverse. We have very affluent neighborhoods in South Jackson, but we also have some neighborhoods that are not doing so well. I think that’s part of the challenge of our ward.
The thing that hasn’t changed, I think, is the fact that people are still proud to be from south Jackson. When you go to South Jackson you get a certain sense of pride and commitment to the area. I’m proud to be from South Jackson. Some people say that they are invested in South Jackson, but South Jackson invested in me. My mom passed away when I was 13 years old, and after she passed away, it was just me and my dad. ….We have some major challenges that we have to address on the city council level and also on the community level to make South Jackson a place to be proud of.
What is a vote that the city council has taken in recent years that significantly affected Ward 6? Did you agree or disagree with the vote of the council members at the time. Why?
The City Council takes votes every day. There are two things that I want to take a harder look at… One of those things is the Siemens contract. The Siemens contract is one of those contracts that started out (touted) as around a $25 million contract—the work that it took to do it. Of course some things were included beyond the $25 million…but now it’s a $90 million contract. So, not only is it a contract that grew in cost to the taxpayer but it also has a financial impact directly on water rate payers. So I think anything that has that large of an economic impact on the residents of South Jackson and Jackson as a whole, we have to take a serious look at it. The contract is signed now.
I think our former Mayor Lumumba looked at that contract in detail to see what could be changed, but from what I understand, from the outside—of course, there are some things I don’t quite understand because we haven’t seen the contract on the inside, and that’s not something in my opinion that was affectively communicated to the people or there weren’t, from my understanding, a wide-spread education component to their contract, which is something that I would definitely do as city councilman. One of my commitments is having a monthly town hall meetings for Ward 6 residents because not only do we need a space to share ideas and voice concerns, but we also need a place where I can be immediately and directly held accountable to the residents of Ward 6. If a concern is brought to me and I say, ‘Yes, we’re going to fix it,’ I want to be held accountable, face to face. I’ll also be able to give constant reports to the residents of Ward 6 because that’s important. Not only being responsive but also actively engaging the residents of our ward is important because people are busy. Things are going on all the time that affect them so being able to knock on doors like we’re doing now and make phone calls like we’re doing now and having an active Facebook and Twitter page like we’re doing now to directly engage residents I think is extremely important to the facilitation of making Ward 6 a better place.
What is currently the most significant issue in front of the council with respect to Ward 6?
I talk to voters every single day so I’m going to tell you what the biggest issue is from the residents’ perspective that must be fixed and that’s the streets. The streets are hands down the number one issue that the resident of Ward 6 are facing right now. And it’s not just Terry Road and McDowell Road and Raymond Road, those main thoroughfares. We have problems in our neighborhoods. Our neighborhood streets are terrible. You can pick the pavement up in your hands. The streets have gone so long without being fixed. We don’t have regular maintenance and if we do it hasn’t been effective. When people do come out to fix the streets, the repairs don’t last two or three weeks. So that obviously means we aren’t doing something correctly. So I think it's (an) important problem. When it rains, the moisture seeps down into the underbed under the pavement. So then it goes from being a quick fix to a huge problem that we now have to find the funds for fix. These are things that just can’t continue to happen in our ward.
If you obtain the position, what would be your main priorities during your first few weeks on Council?
Hands down, in the first few weeks I’ll be going to the residents of Ward 6. I think that we can’t get so caught up in what we think the issues are, and I think we have a pretty good sense of what they are because I, personally, go knock on doors and make phone calls every day to residents of Ward 6. But at that particular time I think we’ll have to reinforce what we think the biggest issues are. …We also have problems with our children not having a place to go so they walk the street, they stay at home, they get in trouble. They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The saying is often used, but it also applies particularly in Ward 6 because a lot of places have closed down, particularly the parks. The park areas that we have in the ward, if they are open, they are unsightly. It’s not inviting for people to want to come and spend time in that green space, which would be a great place for kids to go.
(Near) Terry Road, there is a swimming pool with a park in the back. Many people don’t want to go because the columns at the swimming pool are cracked, they’re not painted, things are falling off and that’s a quick fix. That’s pressure washing the structure and doing a quick paint job. …I’ve talked to several residents who have said, ‘Hey, if you let us know what needs to be done, we’ll come out and volunteer if we can to paint it and it’ll be done.’
That’s the kind of thinking within the city council but also going to the people and asking them to participate in these projects because we know that when we ask people to participate, they feel invested in the community. When they feel invested in the community, they are more like likely to stay. They’re more likely to look out for their neighbors because now we’re creating a space for neighbors to come together and talk, and when our neighbors start looking out for each other, our neighborhoods become safer. …Those types of interactions are important because when we do some small things that we’re supposed to do and start coming together, we can start fixing some of our bigger problems. And even with me as city councilman, if I’m taking a hard position on something that residents want and need in the community, that’s a way we can start building community support behind that issue. Those things are important.
When Mayor Tony Yarber served in the Ward 6 seat, he talked about how economic development was one of the greatest challenges for the area since it is mostly residential. What are your plans in regard to economic development for the area?
Ward 6 is largely residential, but I see it as not only a challenge but as opportunity. The one thing that South Jackson has that many other areas in the city don’t have is we have land. We have residential land because Jackson as a whole has a scarcity of real estate for young professionals and folks who want to move into Jackson. But that also goes to make sure our neighborhoods are cleaned up and dilapidated properties are taken care of so we have that housing stock that we need. But the other thing is we have land for commercial use. We have land for businesses and development to come in.
We have almost 70,000 residents below Highway 80 that makes up South Jackson. Within Ward 6 we have almost 25,000. We have the population, we have the income, we have the disposable income, we have the rooftops, we have everything you need in South Jackson to create a viable economic development projects. We have CMC, Central Mississippi (Medical Center), which was just recently bought, but we have to take care of healthcare incentive dollars from the state. If you come down the street, you get to CMMC, you have an abundance of land, why can’t that area look like Fondren? Why can’t that have wide streets, nice sidewalks, bike lanes, walk lanes, boutiques style shops so people can stop and eat and play without having to go to other places.
When you knock on doors in south Jackson, they say they go and eat in Byram or we have to go up 55 to Lakeland or Flowood or Madison and it’s not fair. We should have places that we can enjoy right in the heart of Ward 6 in south Jackson. Ward 6 is a part of south Jackson. So we have this huge swap of land called South Jackson. What we have to do is create a master plan for South Jackson and Ward 6—an economic development plan. If I’m blessed enough to be elected, I want to sit down with all the people who represent parts of South Jackson. You have Councilman De'Keither Stamps who represents Ward 4 and that’s a huge part of South Jackson now. There’s Councilman Charles Tillman who has Raymond Road going to Terry Road—that’s Ward 5, and you have Councilwoman Margaret Barret-Simon who has a large part of industrial land, all the way down Frontage Road in Ward 6. We have to come together to discuss what challenges and opportunities we have to provide economic prosperity in our ward. Like I said before, it all goes back to the residents. It doesn’t really do anything if we are able to attract businesses that Ward 6 residents don’t necessarily want. It doesn’t make sense for us to have more check-cashing places or pawnshops in War 6. That is something I’ll fight tooth and nail against because we don’t need anymore of those types of places. We have enough, as a matter of fact we have too many. So we have to fight to make sure we have the type of businesses that benefit the people of Ward 6 that they’ll visit and spend money.
We have a handful of restaurants. We need nice restaurants where people can bring their families, but also when you finish eating, you want to come out and go some place like a nice park to take your kids. …I've got a 9-year-old daughter that goes to JPS and a son named Tyrone… but sometimes you just want them to get their energy out, you know, just go play. We don’t have those parks that are of the type of quality that our folks deserve.