Below is the full unedited transcript of the interview with mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall held on May 16, 2017, at the offices of Atlanta Black Star.
Present for interview from Atlanta Black Star: Neil Nelson, co-founder and Chairman of ABS; Tanasia Kenney, staff writer; Kamau Franklin, Political and Social Editor.
Jelani Nelson: The first question I ask everyone, as a mayoral candidate what do you see as the top five issues that Atlanta [residents] should be thinking about when they go to the poll this coming fall?
Kwanza Hall: First and foremost, one has to look at a person’s background, track record, and what they’ve actually already gotten done, whenever you’re assessing a candidate. I think that really matters because people can just tell a story and sell a dream, but without concrete examples of how you get to certain places that people are suggesting we can get to as a city, you really don’t have enough confidence if I were a voter in that, so track record matters.
I would say also, ability to work with others. The ability for individuals to have a connection and connectivity across all types of lines. You really, as a leader, you have to be able to get things done, and sometimes you’ve got to call people that otherwise you might not even have a good rapport with if you were not thinking about the fact that you might need to have a relationship with them in the worst days, in the worst times. That really is an important thing, so connectivity to others.
I would say ability to see through the bullshit, excuse my language because there’s a lot of that noise out there about things that really don’t matter as far as … Age old stories that we’ve heard of, historical arguments that may not get you to the place of success, okay? That clutter can derail progress in terms of making the appropriate decisions that will make things occur. That’s three.
Number four, I think is bend down to the bread and butter issues that citizens feel. That would be transportation’s a big one, and I put these all in one, public safety, accessibility to jobs and job training, workforce development, affordable housing. The fifth one would really be inclusivity and equity as a mantra and as a undergirding of the city. That’s my fourth item that I think people should assess someone on.
Then the fifth one would be I guess the resilience. Everyone makes mistakes, right? It’s how you deal in difficult times. Assessing a leader and having some kind of basis on, so when the going gets tough, how does this person behave? What do they do? What are their natural tendencies? Do they become angry and have an inability to see through discourse and dialogue because it’s difficult? Do they cower in the corner? Do they avoid the dialogue? Do they sit down instead of standing up, if you will? I think that part, that dimension of when in challenge, how a person behaves would be the fifth one.
Jelani Nelson: I want to talk about the fourth one a little bit. I think you’re right about the other pieces of it, but specifically dealing with, I think you mentioned five things within that component, which is transportation, public safety, housing, equity, and jobs. Let’s talk about equity a little bit kind of thing. What kind of policies do you envision putting in place? I think equity really spreads across all these things, right?
Kwanza Hall: Yes.
Jelani Nelson: Equity, housing, jobs, even transportation, public safety, as well because what, and there’s a perception at least in some parts of the city that public safety agents, the police and others, protect some folks and may be protecting some folks from other folks in the city. What kind of policies?
Kwanza Hall: The ones I started with. Equity inclusion must be inherent to Atlanta’s DNA. Atlanta has the potential and it will be the capital of the African diaspora when I’m mayor, and I think that’s mission-critical. This city can demonstrate how people of color can and should be included in our society, how we can be supported, uplifted, and truly have an opportunity to share and contribute the valuable creative and innovative assets that we have inherently in our DNA. That’s not possible in so many cities in the world, in so many countries, but there’s a unique place making that has occurred in Atlanta, if you were to look at it from an urban design standpoint, and our energy coalesces here.
You know if you come here, you can feel there is something we can do here that you can’t do it in Boston. You can get away sometimes in New York because it’s a big, global city, but you can go to Chicago and you can do some of it, but then there’s other parts you can’t do. All of those ingredients happen here, but our intentionality in making it consistent is what’s necessary going forward from a leadership platform.
When we speak about equity and inclusion, I’ve already delivered pieces of legislation that speaks specifically to that, along the criminal justice reform platform, for instance. I’ve passed Ban the Box for felon re-entry. We’re not allowing former felons to come back into our society. Three of my uncles were felons. Many of my friends I grew up with from high school, some of my best friends who were smarter than I was growing up. I went to MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but these young men and women were smarter than me when we were kids. They became felons and went on the wrong paths in life and society never allowed them back in. It hurts when I think about it because that should not be.
We know when people make white collar mistakes, if you will, they have a pathway back into society. It should be possible for everyone, especially those who are coming from urban communities who happen to be of darker skin. We passed Ban the Box, we’re doing a Pre-Arrest Diversion program, introduced legislation around transparency and officer-involved shootings, we’re also working on decriminalization, well in this case in Atlanta we have to call a reclassification of marijuana possession of less than a ounce. Those are the crimes, those are the areas that for me as an African American man growing up in this city, being in America, I’ve had to touch the criminal Justice system in more ways than one, and most of them have not been good.
First time I had a gun pulled on me by a police officer, I was probably 10, 11 years old, my brother and I. We just jumped a fence and went near a train yard on Dill Avenue in southwest Atlanta. The officer, it was a Sunday, we were at my dad’s house and the officer thought we were trying to break in or something, little kids, 357, he sweating, he could’ve killed us.
Ever since that time, I’ve had other experiences. I can walk out this building right now and not have this suit on, or I could have a suit on actually, but the likelihood goes much higher if I don’t have this suit on that I could run into all those types of experiences, even here in this city with African Americans primarily in leadership. Still, we’ve got to address that and Atlanta should be the model.
It starts there just feeling like you can live a society and not get gunned down. Not get choked out and on live TV. That’s impossible for us to even fathom, but it’s happening right now. It’s always been happening in this society, we just didn’t have it on social media before now, so the lynches never really stopped, okay?
Then, when you talk about affordability. I’m the only person in the race who’s actually delivered affordable housing as an elected official. On Boulevard, we have the area with the greatest concentration of poverty in the southeastern United States. Average income is $3,000 a year, average rent is $12 a month, 700 families, 3,000 people. A lot of folks say, “Well you need to change that neighborhood, you need to push the people out.” No, we got the owners to commit to keeping the families and children there because it’s a place of last resort.
If you’re a young woman, 18 to 25 years old and you don’t have a place to go, this is one place that you can go.
Affordability. We brought on 80 units, we’ve got another three projects coming and I’ve been focusing on tiny houses as part of the solution, micro-units, smaller units like you might see in New York. We don’t have to have these big sprawling units in this city. We’ve got to do more density around transit stations, that provides equity in transit and in housing. A transit-oriented affordability plan when we roll out the 2.5 to $4 billion with our MARTA referenda and the T-splose expansion of the Beltline. Everywhere that those investments go, affordability has to be mandatory, not a afterthought. Not okay, maybe we will do that after we do the regular deal. No, it’s first, second, and third in our equation.
We need to do a wholesale neighborhood Renaissance. I grew up on the west side of town. All the neighborhoods west of Northside Drive, south down to Thomasville, we’ve got vacant housing projects, hundreds of acres that need to be used as catalytic regenerators of affordable housing in a massive, wholesale manner. When I say, “Affordable,” I mean every strata of affordability, because it’s different for everyone.
There’s places of last resort, like Bedford Pines on Boulevard where average rent is $12 a month or it’s a sliding scale. Then there’s places where people need to pay 500, then there’s 700, 800, 900, and it needs to be three bedrooms in some cases because there’s a mother with two children, three children. All kinds of scenarios that we have to think about our citizens. That’s where inclusivity comes in as a part of your DNA. Are you really designing the city for people who already live here, or are you designing it for others? We need to think about the needs of those that are here and design around them.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it. I’ve had opportunity in District 2 to work on it, but there’s more that needs to be done and the Mayor has the power to tell all the developers, tell the banks, “We’re going to do this.” That’s somebody from Jamaica, I mean from Colombia calling me, last name Hall, I’m sorry, I just had to share that. I met him when I was down there, and another family member [inaudible 00:11:12].
Atlanta has the potential to do this. When you’re Mayor, you’ve got billions of dollars that come through city government. Hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. You can say, “We’re not going to do this, Bank X, Y, or Z, unless you commit or we commit like you used to do, to community development corporations that protect neighborhoods, don’t allow displacement of people to be pushed out, create a new level or layers of affordability,” that’s a must.
Public safety, housing, jobs, transportation, so Atlanta has been great at building buildings. We see a lot of cranes, a lot of them in my district, $2.2 billion worth of development just in Midtown, alone. We haven’t been good at building people, okay? That’s across alto of platforms. What do I mean?
50,000 people live in Atlanta, I mean go to Atlanta public schools, 50,000 students. Only about 10 to 20% really get that college path. The rest are in another direction and need another direction because they’re ready to go to the workforce. They could be learning how to use this, they can learn how to repair this, we break the screens, $100. They could be the person at 15 and 16, earning a living that prevents you from starting to rob, starting to sell dope, but you’ve got to have another pathway. Pathways to be in our creative economy and our digital economy is what we’ve got to give these young people who otherwise will not go to college and do four years. Maybe they will.
I went to MIT, I don’t have my degree, so what’s that have to do with being successful in this society? Steve Jobs, all the guys at Facebook, I mean so we’re looking at an example. We have two examples in our society, in our community, African American community. You either have you look at Bill Gates and all those guys, you look at hustlers, or you look at music industry, okay, and creative industries. Those are the safe ones that you don’t get in trouble with. If you become a hustler, you will get in trouble, but this one you can do, or you can do the stuff like tech and big business. Those are our areas for potential opportunity. We want to do it, we need the money, we need the opportunity, but we’ve got to have a pathway-
Jelani Nelson: Let me take that piece of it then because it’s a good point. The city does have highly access to billions of dollars, potentially, at least helping to navigate how it’s invested and so forth. How does the Mayor, or you as a potential Mayor, come January 1st, how do you help small black home real estate developers participate in this $4 billion Marta pie?
Kwanza Hall: Great question, great question. There’s a combination of things. Number one, and I’ve helped a lot of developers, okay. Don’t be afraid, would be my model to them. If it looks dark and scary, that’s where you want to invest. A lot of times we want to invest when it’s already up. That’s not when money goes there. Capital goes when it’s very dark because that’s when the prices are lowest. That’s what we got, you know when it looks like that’s the neighborhood you don’t want to be in.
Number two, we’ve got to have access to capital. Can’t do a lot of that but we can help facilitate the relationships with the banks, or help people come together, groups of investors to create funds or other investment vehicles where they can pool their resources and buy larger assets.
The biggest thing though is access to information. People like me in my position, know where the opportunities are, will be in a year or two, and where they will be in five and 10 years. Having a regular roundtable with small business owners, especially those of color and women, hey, this is where I think you should be investing. Trust me. Do you know back in 2009, had a meeting with about 50 primarily men in the music industry, hip-hop, and I told them all to invest on Auburn Avenue in Edgewood. None of them invested. None of them. I said, “You could buy these buildings for $300,000,” this is 2009.
Jelani Nelson: I Should have invited us [laughter].
Kwanza Hall: I didn’t know. I told everybody I knew [crosstalk 00:15:29], I mean they might’ve bought 300,00 or $100,000 cars, but I was like, “Guys, I’m not trying to tell you what to spend your money on but I think this is the best investment you could make.”
Jelani Nelson: I want to pause here for a second because I think that’s really important. I think that’s a valid thing because one thing that doesn’t happen a lot, is we don’t have vehicles that inform small investors, not the celebrities because they’ll do the car wash and the restaurant. I’m talking about the brothers and sisters who have half a million dollars, quarter million dollars, just $100,000-
Kwanza Hall: Yeah, 20,000-
Jelani Nelson: Yeah, who can come together. There’s not a medium to deliver to them that information on a ready, consistent basis. One of the things that we’ve been working on and we’re rolling out probably this fall, is how do we create a some publication that does just that. Here are opportunities in the city of Atlanta, in Georgia, in the country, in the Caribbean, in Brazil, other places in the world, that they should know about. Then, how do you help them navigate it, because I think that’s an important thing a mayor can do is to facilitate that organization of those people, opportunities, information as a resource, and other resources get together.
Kwanza Hall: Absolutely. First of all, we have to know each other. In our community, unfortunately, we can be sitting next door to each other, walking down the street from each other and we won’t be connected, and that’s a travesty. Just breaking down the lack of connectivity in our community is something that the Mayor should do. Hey everybody, let’s just get together and feel comfortable knowing each other. We look different, we might be lighter, darker, whatever, but we need to know each other, okay.
Number two, then you have, you begin a dialogue that can be trusted. Have food, music, and then say okay, what are you trying to do? What are your interests? What are your interests? Taking the time on a regular basis to bring people together is something that the mayor has to do.
The good thing about Atlanta is it’s a beacon. People already come here and music and film has already made more people see it as a place to stop through, use as a opportunity hub, but we’ve got to facilitate in the same way that people go to Switzerland to do banking globally, if you’re a person of color, you should know you can come to Atlanta and it’s a know that you can get plugged in and it’s really easy.
That requires some intentional organizational strategy and thinking. I’m not going to say I have all the answers to that. There are some people who do small business roundtable sessions, I think it’s bigger than that, because technology now exists where you can do some of these things online, wherever you are. That helps to change the game if you happen to be in Brazil and you’re looking how to connect with some brothers up here, some sisters up here. You can do that part online so that when you do pay your money to come here, you’ve had an accelerated increase on your investment. If you spent 500, $700,000 to get here, or to go wherever else, you know that that investment is not just wasted. You understand you know that you’re going to meet all these seven people you already … Some of it happened through this network. Using technology is something that I think we have enough resource, we have enough brothers and sisters, even others, whites who might want to help us connect.
It’s not like it’s exclusive, because some opportunities are going to come from doing business with people who happen not to be black. Especially, we think about the history of Atlanta’s first black millionaire, Alonzo Herndon, he cut white people’s hair and he used that money, parlayed it into the insurance company, Mutual Aid business.
I think we’ve got to look at all those angles and I have so many friends who come to me and they want to do clubs or restaurants and lounges. I’m like, “Okay, cool, do that,” but let me tell you. Black people make the best food, but why do you want to only have black customers. Just help me understand that. Why would you only want to be open three nights a week when the successful restaurants I know, they’re open at least six or five to six and they try to service everybody. They take everybody’s money. You telling me you only want to be open at 9:00, and really open at 11:00, and you want to focus just on black people. “Yeah, that’s all I want is the urban market.” I’m like, “Why? It’s great to focus, but it’s money walking down the street, and he wants to pay you too, so take it.”
I think we’ve got to do some education too on how to seize opportunities and where opportunities may exist. One thing I discovered also is a lot of small business owners come to the city because they think that’s where the opportunities are, either for two things. One, I want a city grant, I’m like, really? There’s not much of that going on. Or two, I want to do business with the city and I should be able to get contracts. Government contracting is probably the hardest type of business to get because you have to already be somewhat in business, have a track record, and you get paid sometimes slower and it’s more paperwork. If that’s how much you need for regular, you need that much for government.
We can cut some of that down, but at the end of the day if I could call a private sector business owner and say, “Hey, they want to offer a service to you, they sell light bulbs.” I can call him, say, “Would you meet with them?” “Yes, sure.” He can decide or she can decide on the spot between you and three people versus going through all the paperwork of the city government, RFP process and the peer process. Great to do, great to learn, but I wouldn’t try to make my living off of government. I would make my living off of private sector people who I have a relationship and a track record that I can demonstrate on the fly and there’s not a lot of paperwork dividing us or politics in the middle of it.
Kamau Franklin: You brought up a couple of things about Atlanta being sort of a black mecca, or at least that’s the-
Kwanza Hall: Potential, it’s a myth a little bit-
Kamau Franklin: Yeah, and that’s part of what the question is. You’ve been in city council now over a decade, close to 12 years and there’s been a lot of shifts in Atlanta that have happened over that time period, most of which if not all of which have happened with black mayors, you know, being at the helm.
Can you speak about what you think has gone on successfully over the last decade or so with those black mayors, and what do you think has been, let’s say the short-sightedness of some of these mayors, and some of this is laced with some of the stuff that you already have talked about that we want to get a little deeper into. I just want to get your opinion on that.
Kwanza Hall: There’s no model more dynamic than the Atlanta Inc. model, which is African America’s in Leadership model, of a hugely successful economic engine, meaning the city of Atlanta and all of its assets, which includes the airport, includes all of the great attractive things that Atlanta’s been able to bring from the Olympics to what we have today, the industries that thrive here, that choose to reinvest here from technology to film and music and everything in between. Financial services, FinTech.
I think this is one of the few cities where we can say black people have done this and successfully. However, we still have places where we are lagers, where we are weak and like I said, we’ve been great at building buildings and companies in some cases, and opportunities, and generally at the big level. Even small people have succeeded but in a wholesale manner, I think we still miss the mark on delivering for those who are most in the margins.
Even more so than delivering, empowering them to be in the market mindset. How to participate in the economy in a legal, safe and sound, and ultimately exponential growth manner. Now how’s that, what am I saying?
If you grew up in an African country in South America, in the Caribbean, in Asia and you’re poor, the first thing you experience is how the market works and the market defines your family. If your family is in a rice field, they learn how to do something around rice. Whether it’s with the rice or with the byproduct or something, they’re cooking it. In Jamaica, you’re doing something with bananas or mangoes or something or you’re using your talent.
Jelani Nelson: Tourism.
Kwanza Hall: Tourism, that’s right. Here, if you’re an African American, you don’t, and especially in Atlanta, there’s a lot of places where people don’t learn to market so you don’t know how to trade. You don’t understand financial literacy, how money really works, how it grows, how it can compound, those simple concepts. If you do learn it, you learn it a lot of times through the school of hard knocks. You get what I’m saying?
Whereas if you’re a kid in South African, your mother has a little basic store where she buys something at one price and sells it at another price, you learn to market. Not everybody learns that. There’s only one candy lady in the ‘hood. There’s not a lot of people who are doing that stuff. Some are more resourceful than others but in general, it’s not a way of life. That’s one of our missing pieces in this city.
I discovered it only when I’d go up to New York and Boston and I meet people who are Haitians and Jamaican and from Antigua and all these other, I’m like man, these people got like three jobs and they’ve got three side hustles, and they’re selling mixed tapes, they’re doing this, like Dominicans grew everything. How is it that we aren’t as resourceful, we go one job and go home. I’m tired, man. You understand? I’m not knocking them, I’m just saying I’m knocking my own family, my own community. I think that’s where we have not changed that part, the permanent underclass in our city has remained permanently there.
Jelani Nelson: It’s a culture thing.
Kwanza Hall: Yeah, we’ve got to break the culture and we’ve got to also not allow those who benefit from this power base that we have to not be required to reinvest. Italian, Jews, Greeks, Chinese, they take care of their communities, okay? You’ve got to do the same thing here. That’s going to be a new model. If you do business at the airport, you do business at the city, where are you reinvesting?
Do you know that the concessionaires at the airport make $300 million in revenue? Generate $300 million in revenue a year, 10-year contract, $3 billion. That’s just food concessions. Three billion of that, let’s be conservative, 30 to 40% goes to people of color and women. It’s one to $1.3 billion going to people of color.
Now, how many of those same people are reinvesting along Auburn Avenue? Are reinvesting along Cascade and Campbellton Road? I grew up off Campellton Road. How many restaurants do we have at Cascade and 285? Are we proud of that? We’ve got five mayors who live less than a mile from Cascade and 285. Current mayor, Mayor Franklin, Mayor Young, Mayor Jackson’s family, and Mayor Campbell lives there now. We’ve got to change this dynamic and some of it has to do with us.
You can’t call everybody else because if we call everybody else to come and invest there then it’s going to cut you out, the small real estate investor.
Jelani Nelson: I want to revisit that because that was coming in earlier with the culture, because I think you’re really hitting on something here is how does the mayor help change the culture?
Kwanza Hall: Culture’s inside of you, culture’s something you’ve learned growing up, how you’ve been raised. It’s tied to your character, it’s experiences you’ve had, sum total of those experiences reflect out of you.
Jelani Nelson: Sure.
Kwanza Hall: I’m not saying I’m a culture expert but I sure do believe that we’ve got a lot of folks who are hidden assets in this city, in that space, that should be allowed to pour it on. Then when you take the power of media and the power of music and you kind of tweak it a little bit, right now it’s just being. It’s a reflection of exactly the lifestyle I live. Fine, but we can do better than that.
How do we do better? This is the lifestyle I’m living, but can you project the lifestyle that we all want to have? Can you project that I’m a rapper now I grew up in this neighborhood and five years later in my song, I came back and I invested in the whole community. Every kid got the opportunity they deserved. Not necessarily all of them went to college, but they got the opportunity they deserved, they all are now investing, they’re all doing something fun. Tell that story because the stories are live. Perception is reality.
Project the story you want and it becomes reality. The kid behind you at five is not going to know the difference in that truth. He’s going to believe that’s how you do it, right?
Jelani Nelson: Clear.
Kwanza Hall: That’s why you own your business, right?
Jelani Nelson: Indeed.
Kamau Franklin: What about the 1990 because I also think that gets to the heart of what you’re talking about, so I just want to make sure we ask that question, I guess.
Tanasia Kenney: In 1990, the city of Atlanta was about 67% black and now it’s about 50%. On the issue of gentrification, what policies do you plan to enact to incentivize the reversal of this trend of black people leaving Atlanta or being pushed out of Atlanta.
Kwanza Hall: I think it’s a couple of things. They go hand in hand. Okay, so we need a wholesale recruitment of people like the two of you and all of your friends. The numbers exist in metro Atlanta. Why do people not choose to live in Atlanta right now? Because the neighborhoods, the legacy neighborhoods as I’ve mentioned, have not been invested in. We’ve got to run very quickly because you all will need to invest or people who live in the east side, Stone Mountain, all over that way, Douglasville, Clayton County, all have come to Atlanta, I live in Atlanta, but we not really a part of the Atlanta dream because we’re really technically outside the lines. We’ve got to get that investment here.
Don’t matter where, we’re going to do it street by street or house by house, street by street, block by block. It means we find some blocks where you all can live, west side Atlanta by Lowry, hey, you all want to live there? We’re building a brand new park, it’s going to look just like Fourth Ward, come get it now. “Oh man, but that neighborhood’s bad.” I’m telling you, my neighborhood looked just like that in 1999, in old Fourth Ward, now the rents are $1,800 a month. Not that you want to be paying rent, you want to be owning. There are houses available, they’re $25,000. You can afford a $25,000 house if you want it. It’s going to require work, it’s going to require sweat. That’s one way.
The other way is non-displacement of existing people there. I started with the latter, I started with this one, I mean I ended with, no, I started with the first one because I think young, dynamic, new, fresh people are more mobile and have more resource and more understanding of what’s going on that those who have been locked into a neighborhood for 40, 50 years, a senior who’s aging in place. We’ve got to protect the seniors, we’ve got to protect the seniors who are raising their grandkids or great-grandkids, and then we’ve got to look at the families that are there that are struggling in the margins. All three groups, and there is a large group of homeless men.
The men and women, especially men who are homeless, could be used and deployed with day labor rates to work in supportive services and supportive housing, to work to clean up every one of these streets, every one of these neighborhoods on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis. “Hey, who wants to go clean up?” Have organized strategy. We’re going to clean up every lot, every house, we’re going to board it up if it’s not boarded, we don’t care who owns it, we’re going to call them out and embarrass them. We’re going to say, “Look, we cleaned up your lot. You’re going to own this for 10 years, you haven’t cleaned it up once.” Take the pictures but we’re going to do it because it’s going to re-instill pride. Then these men will be able to get a source of income.
Then maybe you have a dedicated savings program. You get, you take 80% of the money, the other 20% goes into what’s an individual development account. After you work for 20 days, you’ve got $400 in the bank. I mean you know, we’ve just got to be real about the reality. Have you ever supported a nephew, a brother, a friend who needs some help? What did you do? I will put some of this up for you so that when you’re ready to get it, you can get it. That’s how we’re going to have to help people, in a real way, in a real honest to true way where they are. There’s thousands of men and women who are at that place.
Kamau Franklin: The city of Seattle experimented with putting homeless folks in housing, but like housing that was vacant. Do you think that’s an area that you could experiment with, one. Two, I was curious. I mean as development has happened in this city, how do you as mayor, stop the market-driven development-
Kwanza Hall: That’s right. First thing, there’s four or 5,000, at least, maybe more like 9,000 empty houses and apartments on the west side. There’s thousands of homeless individuals and there’s thousands of people who just want to live in the city. It’s just a matchmaking thing. I mean it’s a travesty that we have empty houses and people are homeless because there’s enough to actually fill the gap. That’s part of it.
At least you get a temporary place, you stay in the house while it’s being repaired. Cool. You keep it safe. Somebody’s got eyeballs on it. When it’s repaired, the mother and her child, her daughters, get to stay there. They’re going to come by every week saying, “That’s going to be your house.” “Oh yeah, that’s our house, how’s it coming? Are you cleaning up, guys? You all working on it?” “Yeah, man.” “Thank you, all.”
Three months later, you’re moving into the house and those guys move to another place. They’re getting their supportive service, they’re saving their money. We’ve got case managers who are there on site, in the community. People have challenges that they work through. If you’ve ever had work crews, you’ve ever had people clean up, I pick up homeless guys and let them work on my yard all the time, doing work around the house.
There are certain issues that people are dealing with. We’ve got to help them get those supportive services but also, people just need love and knowing that someone else believes in them who could, who knows that they could be in that same position and gives them enough confidence to get back in the game and to try. That’s really what it is.
Mr. Kwanza, will you come, hey man, I need help, I need just a little bit of something. All right man, I’ll loan you five dollars, $10, but I’d rather give them some work. I give guys my yard signs. “Hey, you put them together.” It’s not but 10, $15, but you could be doing this while you’re sitting around, what else are you doing? Here. You come pick up paper. I mean give people some work until they can get on their feet. Then help them with the services, because sometimes you need basic services. I need to get a toothbrush, I need to get soap, I need to get blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you know what I mean? All of that’s necessary.
Kwanza Hall: Oh the market. Yeah, we can’t allow the market to control everything. I’m glad you described it that way. The market religion will destroy all humanity if we allow it to and we see it everywhere in Amazon and we see it here. We see it in the Caribbean. I think the main thing we need to do is to create the policies, but even beyond policies, they can be on the books but you don’t live up to them. It’s the wheel.
Again, it’s what I started with, with the banks. Look, We’ve got $175 million in reserves, we can do this many bonding, okay, you talk to all these people, we’re not doing it this way anymore, you all. We don’t mind the growth of our economy, but the growth should not roll over people. It should be growth that’s inclusive. Let’s look at what happened in China.
Right now they’ve got empty cities because they allowed the market to take over. Let’s not be that stupid in this city. Let’s not have another bubble because it’s close to it at the rate these developments are happening, and there’s not enough people to pay for it. If there’s any supply shop to the American economy, people will be right back where we were in 2008, you know, and if it’s a real war type of thing it goes crazy.
We’re not as strong as we think we are, so we need to be careful of that market. I think also having the will to say we’re going to go counter the market. We’re going to build those wholesale units because you know supply will attack that demand. If you’ve got enough supply coming on the market, it’s going to cause the prices to hold down. Right now, we don’t have enough supply in those price points and that changes the game, too.
Actually, but the only thing I say is I do kind of quietly expect and kind of hope for a correction in the economy. The correction gives us a new moment to go after the assets. If the city acquires the land, then the city can hold down the price point on the property. If we don’t own the land, then the market does control it, so the land ownership in control matters.
Jelani Nelson: I want to talk about public safety a little bit. You sponsored legislation to reclassify marijuana decriminalization, which has recently gotten kind of bogged down in the city council. Can you speak to why you think some of your fellow members seem at least wary to support your proposal moving forward?
Kwanza Hall: I think there’s a combination of things. I think number one, it’s a little revolutionary for Atlanta, still. Atlanta’s far more conservative than it seems. I mean you know, when it comes down to these kind of decisions. We’re in a state that’s a conservative red state, as well. We’ve got a state pressure that we can’t do anything that puts us in conflict with state law, right?
Initially, the conversation was legalizing it decriminalizes, so even if you have the semantics that go counter, I think the Mayor and the legal department don’t want to have that kind of testy position with the state. Then it could cause some unintended consequences for young people in particular, people of color, thinking that now if we do pass this law, it’s legal to smoke weed. It just means that you would get a ticket, not that you were legal on the street, and that the police are focusing more so on [inaudible 00:39:10] crimes.
If you’re smoking weed they still can come up and give you a ticket, just like they can give you a ticket for other things. If you’re driving a car, then you’re still creating a situation that could add to a probable cause for other things. It would be less likely, but that also requires a whole retraining, whole public information campaign, retraining of police, retraining of citizens, everyone has to learn how to engage in this. That’s Atlanta police, who may be cool with this, like how back in the day if you had some beer or something and you were under age a little bit, they’d pour it out, say, “Go home.” Kind of like that.
A lot of black boys would not be in jail. The thing that’s missing is the state, because a lot of the charges that we got in the city that go to Rice Street are charges for state troopers stopping someone here, Georgia Building Police, Georgia State Police, Georgia Tech Police, MARTA Police. All of those groups can use the highest penalty.
The officer decides oh no, this is going to be a thousand dollar situation. Still, we can’t control that. You would walk around thinking you can carry some weed and you smoke it and you’re near MARTA, and they arrest you and then you end up still dealing with the punishment that we were not intending you to get. There is some confusion that has to be worked out and that’s the public information campaign.
That’s why I was pushing that we try to, we pass the legislation but we not let it become effective for six months so that it gives people time to learn and be re-engaged and have some sessions and dialogues and town halls about what it really means.
Kamau Franklin: That’s why to me it seems like it’s more than just, it’s more than just people won’t get it right away. Then you can just do the public information campaign, right? There seems to be a, I don’t know if it’s an ideological question?
Kwanza Hall: On the police side, I think there’s still a philosophical, you know, those officers can still arrest under those terms. If they feel like they want to arrest, they have the discretion. I’m not a officer so I can’t tell them what to do on the spot. In the moment, they can decide, as we see right now, they decide to shoot people. [crosstalk 00:41:28]
Then it’s also the state police, we don’t control them and we have to get them to even agree and they’re still not even with [crosstalk 00:41:39]-
Kamau Franklin : Still, within the city of Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed, through his police chief could help dictate those policy changes, relatively speaking, easily.
Kwanza Hall: Kwanza Hall as Mayor, will do this. I’ve worked with the current Chief, and I’ve been a part of the Pre-Arrest Diversion Program when she was a Deputy. I think she would be philosophically more where I am than where the current administration is. It’s the end of their term, maybe they don’t feel like dealing with it, you know what I mean? It opens up a new thing. New can of worms that you just got to deal with.
Actually now, I can just do it myself when I’m Mayor and we’ll make it happen and it becomes something that we really train our city to be a different place and stay in dialogue with the state, though. We don’t want to have a fight with them, yeah.
Tanasia Kenney: How do you plan to balance public safety issues with the issue of over-criminalization or what someone say is the targeting of the black community.
Kwanza Hall: Great question. You know I’ve felt that targeting and I’ve felt also how our black leadership did things that made me feel connected to the city so that I didn’t feel like an outcast and outsider. I still felt like one but not as much, right, growing up as a black man. When you discover as a 13, 14-year old that society is not designed for you, you feel that pain and then you rebel, you act out, you go through all kinds of mental machinations to try to figure out and reconcile. Even being a good student, you get in trouble. Being a bad student you get in trouble, so what do you do? You know what I’m saying?
I know that feeling, I know it firsthand. First thing is, one thing that we had in our city when I was growing up was we had more coaches in our lives. A lot of people say we need more police. I think young people need coaches. Young people need people that can help them to develop as human beings. If you only engage with a police officer, very few people learn that they work for them. By the time you discover it, that you’re paying their salaries, you might be too brash, like I was, and then I’d be like, “You work for me,” and then they still would lock me up for disorderly conduct. You know what I’m saying? I used to be a street corner lawyer back then. I mean seriously. I’d be like, “No, you work for me, you can’t do that to me.” You know, say, “Right there in jail.” What do you do? I’ll protest. You know you work for me anyway.
I think, so we’ve got to give the young people the assets in the community that make them feel loved and that’s using our rec centers in a way that we haven’t. Mayor Reed has done a good job of getting the Centers of Hope back open because they were closed in the budget downturn, but they’ve got to be lifted back up to an all time high. Of the high that it was better than Bill Campbell, better than Andrew Young where I was a lifeguard, I was a locker attendant, I played Little League Football, baseball, basketball. We could go to the rec center. If we had nothing else to do at 3:30, we could go there. Children have to know at 3:30, there is somewhere for them to be. Because we only have 50,000, we should know where every one of them is.
No way you can be lost in this city. There’s not that many kids. Not like in New York, you’ve got a million kids, 50,000, we know where they are. Where are you? Somebody’s tracking them, and we’ve got a program for them. You want to work, you want to play, you want to learn, all these things you can do. You can do a little bit of each because all of it’s going to get you towards being a wholesome citizen. That’s what they need. You want to go in the garden, you want to go in nature, you want to ride bikes, I mean so much stuff you can do in Atlanta but the kids need to know at 3:30, you go do your homework and you go do this stuff until your mom comes to get you. It might be 10 o’clock, but you know you’re somewhere safe, and we know they’re somewhere safe, and we’ve got technology now, you can even track them. Hey, we know where the cell phone is.
Jelani Nelson: We’ve been talking to all the other mayors candidates and I’ve shared with you what was said before, is that, we again have a lot of, 150,000 people in the city that reach our publication and we intend on endorsing someone late summer or early fall. Can you tell us why, why reasons. Why it should be you and not anyone else. You can compare yourself to others, too. We don’t mind.
Kwanza Hall: First, I’m the only one with a proven track record for getting things done in a wholesale manner, big and small. A long, long list and I brought some of them so you all have them, across every touchpoint. Transportation, public safety, affordable housing, workforce development, economic development, global competitiveness, focus on the international. I’ve been to more countries than all of the other candidates combined, probably. Maybe not all of them combined, but I’ve been to a lot of countries and I have real relationships in these countries. I think the future of Atlanta is going to be about a local to global connectivity, beyond what we’ve ever seen before. That’s kudos to the Mayor, all the mayors before and especially Ambassador Young, but we can do way better, okay.
I think in terms of my ability to connect with rich, poor, black, white, gay straight, that’s going to be absolutely necessary, just the ability to deal with everybody. I mean some people only are coming from one perspective and some people only want native Atlantans in this stuff. We still get that pushback. “You all are not from here.” I mean what are you talking about. Seriously? This is a melting pot. New York is great because it welcomed everybody and people know if you get to New York, you’re on. Just want to get there. Atlanta should feel that way. It should be welcoming to everyone and inclusive.
I think you also have to think about, I mean for me, I have a history of family legacy of civil rights and social justice and helping people. Haven’t really done a lot to try to help myself, and my family never was that type of family where we’re trying to just get ourselves paid and get rich. That’s not what I want to do as Mayor. I want to help our citizens. There’s a lot of other jobs I could be in. I could do technology and that’ll probably be something I can go into later. I could do international business in a heavy, wholesale manner. Right now, I believe our Atlanta, our city’s at a unique place and it needs a leader.
If there was someone else to do it, I’d be like, “Fine, do it man, I’m going to do business.” There’s no one else to do it the way it needs to be done. No one else understands that we are truly supposed to be the beacon for the African diaspora. The black star has deep meaning to me, okay? That has meaning, and we still have not done what those brothers did years, decades ago. Okay? We can do it here. We’ve done some other things but there’s some basic lines of growth and development that we’re still not achieving upon. We actually have retrogressed, we’ve regressed and we’ve got to fix that. Atlanta is the model for the rest of the country. People look at us for leadership. I believe that that global outlook is something that I bring to the equation.
Then, in terms of what we talked about, about affordable housing and the development around the transit investments that we’ll make and the continued investment around the airport. There is really no one who’s willing to say they don’t know it all, okay? I don’t know it all. I’m a smart person now, I’m telling you I’m smart, but I still don’t know it all and I can’t do it all, but I’m willing to offer to some of the candidates in the race, all the citizens, people like you all who want to be a part of making our city the great place it can be.
Most people want to have just their friends in it. I don’t believe in that. I believe our city has not even touched, if you will, the crowdsourced capabilities that exist in this city. The talent that people just die, man, I want to be a part of this, how can I help Atlanta? Nobody gives you a door in, they actually close the door on you. The more you try to give, the more they push you away, like why? It shouldn’t be like that here. We’ve got to change the culture, shift our philosophy, get back to what is our true DNA. A DNA that’s predicated based upon being humane. Put humanity first. We have that inside of this city, but it’s kind of gotten a little skewed and we’ve got to pull it back to that.
That’s what I think I offer. An ability to connect with human beings in a way that I think no one else can. With all citizens.
Jelani Nelson: Thank You
Kwanza Hall: Thank You