With less than six weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, Atlanta City Council candidate Zelda Jackson is laying it all out for voters on why she should be their next councilwoman.
Jackson, a Charleston, S.C. native with over 20 years of civic leadership experience under her belt, currently serves as a board member of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association and has worked with the likes of civil rights icon and activist Congressman John Lewis. She last held a position in the Office of the Municipal Clerk for the City of Atlanta as a contractor to Rhonda Dauphin Johnson, according to her website.
From gentrification in Atlanta to sustainable development, some of the city’s most pressing issues are on Jackson’s list of policy priorities. She recently spoke with Atlanta Black Star about her campaign goals and how she plans to execute them.
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
ABS: As an Atlanta city council candidate, what are the top three issues you hope to address if elected?
ZJ: “My first [issue] is gentrification; I would like for everyone to have the opportunity to live and stay in Atlanta … I went to the Fulton County Board of Assessors fighting against an increase in property taxes and I won my avail by educating my neighbor, letting them know that a tax hike [of] 300 or 500 percent at one time is ludicrous. It’s no way that we should settle for that and say that’s the way it should be. What they’re doing is pricing us out … and it’s not just forcing Blacks out, its forcing anybody out who’s middle to low-income … And not only that. what about them forcing out mom and pop shops in the mall and in downtown Atlanta. How is that economically fair? And how are we protecting our small business owners? I just want us to be aware as a community and as taxpayers of what’s happening. It’s just not in Atlanta, it’s in every district and every city where Blacks are being forced out somehow or some way.
The next issue I have is the initiative for youth. This initiative is for youth ages 14 to 18 who have already gotten in the system. I want the [at-risk youth] to get in the program where I teach them life skills; learning how to prepare food and buy food that is healthy. We have to be careful how we eat and we have to protect ourselves with what we eat and what we put in our bodies. [We have to] teach them entrepreneurship as well. Everyone is not gonna want to go to college, everybody’s not going to be able to afford to go to college. But as your councilmember, I would like to have an initiative set up where I teach life skills and also how to work.
The last initiative I would like to have is a 24-hour entertainment district … so that when you leave a ball game or you leave a concert, you have somewhere to go. Somewhere you can go to continue to have your fun and enjoy your stay. It’ll be a mixture of restaurants, so if you wanna have Jamaican, Mexican or some good ‘ol Gullah cuisine, you have that available to you. You could go and see a comedy show or some performance art, or jazz, pop – whatever genre you’re interested in.”
ABS: On your campaign website, you say your mission is to help move Atlanta forward? What does that mean for you and what steps will you take to make it happen?
ZJ: “I want to move Atlanta forward for all its citizens. I don’t want anybody to be left out, so my next effort as a councilmember [would be to] have continual town hall meetings or monthly town hall meetings where you get to meet and speak to your councilmembers. The Atlanta school board and different churches within the City of Atlanta would be invited, as well as the Fulton County Commissioner and your state representative. We’ll sit down with congregants, talk about the issues, we’ll make a plan of action and then you’ll have the execution through members of government. I want that done monthly so no one is excluded. Because right now if you’re not on the internet or social media, you’re excluded from meetings … So, this is about engagement, about communication. And let’s work together to move Atlanta forward together.”
ABS: I understand you already have years of civic experience under your belt. How do you feel your previous work as a special assistant to Congressman John Lewis has prepared you for the role of councilwoman?
ZJ: “When I worked with Congressman John Lewis, I dealt with social security claims, a little bit of administration, civil rights violations and discrimination on jobs. And it sort of gave me the empathy to truly be a leader. You have to become a servant leader. You have to serve first. So not only have I served in many different capacities in the government, from federal, state and local government; I’ve served with a congressman who had empathy for his brothers and sisters to fight for civil rights … So empathy is the one thing I learned. Also communication. You can communicate with somebody but HOW are you communicating with them? And [I learned] how to tolerate and deal with people who are not quite apt on how to treat other folks. So those are the different things you have to deal with.”
ABS: So far, what’s the toughest issue you’ve faced during the campaign?
ZJ: Oh, I could go on and on. Not being invited to forums or being invited at the last minute, sending in my bio and they leave out my website … just little crap like that ticks me off. It’s like you know what, are you playing fair? Are you afraid? You’re raking in so much money and so many endorsements, why are you scared of little ‘ol me? I’m a candidate and I’m gonna be a sophisticated lady all my life and I’ll always carry myself that way.”
ABS: Why should the people of Atlanta elect you for city council?
ZJ: “… I feel like we should be an advocate outdoors and indoors too. You shouldn’t change once you get in office, and I’m that type of person. You’ve got a lot of candidates who have a lot of endorsements, and they have so many endorsements once they’re in office, so they’re already bought. [In me,] you’ve got somebody who’s truly fighting for your rights, fighting for your children, fighting for your elderly. I’m not bought. I’m doing it because this is my lifelong dream … I am a true servant leader and a true advocate for my people, and I will continue to be. That’s why everyone should vote for Zelda Jackson.”