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What the Voters Really Want: Values & Ideas That Work(ed)

by Terrence Winston
The race for the City Council seat in the 41st District (Ocean Hill, Brownsville, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and East Flatbush) is a quagmire of candidates and political agendas. There are 15 candidates running in this election. Their names in alphabetical order:
1. Alicka Ampry-Samuel
2. Royston Antoine
3. William F. Boyland, Sr.
4. Brinmore Britton
5. Rev. Melvin L. Davis
6. Essie M. Duggan
7. Tania Gelin
8. Pamela M. Junior
9. Stanley Kinard
10. Danny King
11. Darlene Mealy
12. David R. Miller
13. Naquan Muhammad
14. Maryam A. Samad
15. Joseph Young, Jr.

 I took the opportunity to speak with resident voters asking what was important to them. I questioned young adults and neighborhood elders. Surprisingly (or not), many of the folks were aware of who their current City Council member is (Tracy Boyland, whose term is expiring this fall) but unaware, of almost all the remaining candidates campaigning. This was consistent in spite of the abundance of campaign posters hanging up in almost every barbershop, hair salon, grocery store, and street lamppost. These residents weren’t particularly interested in individual politicians and their agendas. Past experience has taught them that the political messiah, a complex mixture of personality and promise, can sometimes be as hollow and transient as the campaign promises they midwife.
Ms. Delores Paul, a homeowner living across from Saratoga Park in the Ocean Hill section of Brooklyn for thirty-four years, believes that “nobody cares” anymore about the welfare of the community, adding, “We lost respect for the block, for the neighborhood.” Paul has seen her block in particular go through a series of transformations; from peaceful to chaotic.and back to peaceful again. A few years ago, she wouldn’t have felt safe sitting and conversing on her stoop without the fear of violence breaking out. She believes the reason things have settled down is because so many people “have been locked up” or “shot dead.”  From her perspective, nothing has really changed in the collective thinking of the community. There has still been a failure to examine current values and priorities that mystifyingly replaced older ones. The choices being made and reciprocating behavior has created a fractured community. 
Ms. Paul isn’t looking for any politician to solve her problems or rescue her self-interests or the communities. She recognizes that it will require the effort of an entire community to heal itself. Paul expressed that she isn’t afraid to speak her mind or take initiative on her own if the situation requires that kind of dynamic effort. Experience, however, has lowered her expectation on the results of her efforts. Ms. Paul shared a position with many people interviewed; the desire to return to an older traditional community value system that’s time-tested. A system requiring reexamination in addressing today’s community concerns. The desire to look towards shiny “new” solutions to long-standing problems should be abandoned.
 Ahmed, a young man whose family lived in Bed-Stuy, believes that whoever is elected should initiate programs that develop the financial intelligence and social skills of the youth in the neighborhood. He says the youth “need to be taught the concept of money, so it can circulate in the community.” Ahmed recognized a damaging, reoccurring pattern in African-American neighborhoods: the sustained ignorance of a group’s financial power and potential leads to loss of community property and self-respect. This ignorance has left large portions of our community vulnerable to foreign, economic and political interests. These foreign groups parasitically drain our communities of the monies needed to sustain a strong economic base. He said, “Everybody (non-African-American groups) knows how to pimp us.”
 A question many residents had is where do they fit in the future plans for central Brooklyn? There is a real concern that with all of the changes, influx of new residents and new money, has the future of their community been decided already? Are these political elections really going to provide leadership that will enhance their lives? This is not to suggest that there is a cauldron of cynicism boiling in the bellies of the voters. On the contrary, many see a bright future for Brooklyn and its residents. They wonder, however, who these residents will be.
 Chris Slaughter, a poet, author, scholar, barber, artist and activist who grew up in Bed-Stuy, stressed the need for, “more during-school programs” in contrast to after-school programs. He questioned the thinking behind cutting art and music in schools. He also strongly suggested that children should be taught interviewing skills for jobs at younger ages. It should not wait until they are about to graduate from high school. It should begin when the students are seven, eight, nine years old. As the years pass and the job-seeking process has become familiar, then they will be prepared to compete and succeed. Slaughter also felt that African-American’s should, “Start policing our own neighborhoods” again and take self-empowerment classes.
But all of the concern is not just for the youth.  Ms. Sheila, an elder living in Brownsville, said more should be done for our senior citizens. She said there should be “pool activities” where public pools would be opened at a specific time of the day only for elders. Sheila believed that older folk need physical stimulation coupled with mental stimulation, creating a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Like the other interviewees, community safety remains a constant concern saying she too is, “afraid to walk in the neighborhood,” one she’s resided in for twenty-one years.
   Interestingly on the evidence of two perspectives: old and young voters, similar concerns and conclusions were brought forth. While the young foresee a community that is rapidly moving in a different direction, the old look back with experience, see a pattern repeating itself .  If there is one thing that both groups would want from an elected official, it’s to create a political strategy that reinstitutes a value structure that used to exist in central Brooklyn, and that worked. It encouraged folks to help, teach, communicate, problem-solve and build for each other with each other.

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