By Dr. Robert White II, Professor of Humanities at Alabama State University.
Montgomery has a critical history of contradiction. I think this is displayed by various street intersections in the city. First, there is the corner of Jeff Davis and E.D Nixon, which marks the dual identity of Confederate social order and civil rights. Secondly, there is the intersection of Fairview and Court which shows the enormous gap in income distribution and property value. Finally , the downtown round about where Commerce, Court and Dexter Ave meet at a round about around the fountain; which was the site of the infamous slave auction pit.
Having said this, whoever becomes the next mayor will have to contend with the historic and even ancient social impediments which emerge in the seemingly bi-polar approach to building a viable and marketable brand.
So who is best fit to take on this challenge?
Whoever becomes mayor will need to address the exploitative and dependent relationship that the “mother city” has with her illegitimate and ungrateful children, namely, Prattville, Millbrook, Pike Road and Wetumpka. This will include countering a very vicious and persistent public relations campaign which most of the local media outlets seem to be waging, which seeks to make Montgomery look as bad as possible without highlighting the many positive aspects of the city. This only serves to make other communities seem more preferred.
But which candidate understands the need for an aggressive public relations campaign? I don’t know. Also, our city has four four-year colleges which provide a constant influx of students, faculty and administration who could be looked at as assets rather than liabilities or nuisances. Also these students, along with public school kids make up a majority of the workforce and housing consumers; which should attract investors and home builders. So why is most of the concentration of the so called “River Region” being funneled to communities that obviously do not have the infrastructure ?
Thirdly, thousands of visitors are flooding our city because of the recent opening of several civil rights sites and the next mayor must be able to build an economic base around this newly found economic benefit.
Fourthly, our city needs to better invest its assets using local brokers and financial advisors. Fifthly, healthcare professionals need to be mentioned and supported and so do local educators. Local doctors need to be recognized and appreciated. The educators in our public school system need to be as celebrated as rockstars. Meaning that if we are going to have community schools, then the teachers in those schools need to be community personalities. The city could provide fellowships, stipends and grants to educators to which in the long run would have a huge impact on the community.
Finally, our Police Force needs to be filled with citizens of Montgomery. Which will help bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement. I think the gap between the two is deliberate and intentional; further increasing the tendency for police to be enforcers and not protectors. By Montgomery cops being viewed as outsiders, the identifying aspect of community policing is absent. Montgomery Police Department and rescue needs to be comprised of Montgomery residents and a nice feeder program from Montgomery public schools would be appropriate.
At this point, whoever is open to these suggestions should be qualified enough to lead us on the right direction. The contradictory nature of Montgomery’s identity serves as a serious obstacle to growth. Whoever the next mayor is, should divert more resources to west Montgomery, and build from the creative aspect of the entire community. Crime for the most part is symptomatic and like other major cities that continue to prosper despite significant crime rates, Montgomery must do those affirmative things to make crime less likely. Crime is often relative to the economic and social conditions as a whole. Bobby Bright brought growth and vision and Mayor Strange has done some progressive things. Yet, we stand in need of a listener, innovator, an enterpriser and an organizer and not a “fat cat” or “ dictator.” He or she must be able to harness local talent and build from the creative genius that is present on our local community.