I come from a large family. My dad grew up in Southtown as one of six children, and my mom grew up in Avondale as one of eight. My dad went to Ullman High School until it closed in 1970. He transferred to Hayes, and that’s where he met my mom. And with a family that big, I had relatives all over town — Kingston, Collegeville, West End, Loveman’s Village, Fountain Heights, Metropolitan Gardens, Pratt City, Mason City. So I literally grew up all over Birmingham.
I’m the third of four children, with two sisters and a brother. I grew up in North Birmingham, attended North Birmingham Elementary. My parents divorced when I was eight — both remarried — and when I was 11, my brother and sisters and I moved with my mom to Crestwood. I went to Putnam Middle School, and then went to high school at Shades Valley, mostly because my older sister had decided to go there instead of our zoned high school, which was Woodlawn.
I had relatives all over town — Kingston, Collegeville, West End, Loveman’s Village, Fountain Heights, Metropolitan Gardens, Pratt City, Mason City. So I literally grew up all over Birmingham.
Growing up, from the time I was born until I finished high school, I never lived in a house that had fewer than eight people in it. Us kids used to joke about that, all the relatives we had in the house. But what I saw in my mom was a person who worked a full-time job, but still extended herself to our family, always willing to lend a helping hand. Anytime there was an instance where someone needed housing, she stepped up. There was an uncle who lived with us for a while, there was an aunt, there were some cousins. A stepsister of mine died, and her kids, my two nephews, ended up living with us. My great-grandmother, who lived to be 100, moved in with us for the last nine years of her life. Often, there were four generations living in our house. That taught me a lot.
I got my first job at 15, working at Western Supermarket on Crestwood Boulevard. I started as a bag boy, but I moved up to doing displays, floor stocking, receiving. I learned the whole concept of customer service, of taking care of the people whose goodwill pays your salary — of putting other people first. And I’ve never forgotten those lessons. I still remember a lot of those customers, and they still remember me. Some of them have children who have graduated high school since I’ve been on the school board. One of the ladies whose groceries I bagged was Brenda Dial, who was a teacher at the time, and who recently retired as the principal of Putnam.
I worked at Western until I got accepted at Morehouse College. It’s hard for me to know where to begin to talk about what Morehouse did for me. It’s a place where campus politics and student government has the kind of importance that football has at the University of Alabama. In fact, we used to say that student government at Morehouse was a varsity sport — and I got the chance to play “quarterback” my senior year, when I was elected as the SGA president. That gave me an amazing opportunity, not only to lead the student body, but also to interact with the administration and members of the board of trustees. I learned a lot about who I was. And I learned how to be a leader.
It’s hard for me to know where to begin to talk about what Morehouse did for me. It’s a place where campus politics and student government has the kind of importance that football has at the University of Alabama.
Another big area of emphasis at Morehouse is community service — giving back, making a difference. For me, that meant coming home after graduation and finding ways to make a difference in Birmingham. So I came home with my degree in political science, and I went and knocked on the door of Lee Loder, Jr., who at that time was the president of the Birmingham City Council. He offered me an opportunity at City Hall, and I accepted. Over the next year, I worked for the city council, in the Mayor’s Office Division of Youth Services, and with the Jefferson County Committee on Economic Opportunity’s “Weed and Seed” program.
All of that was me, at the very young age of 22, basically asking the question, “What’s going on in Birmingham, and how can I be involved and make a difference?” I worked in Druid Hills, Metropolitan Gardens, and Norwood. That gave me some foundation and training, not just organizing, but on the whole notion of how to serve the community. It convinced me that I could make an impact here, so that even after I decided at the end of that year to go to law school, I went to Cumberland School of Law at Samford, because I knew that I wanted to stay in Birmingham. In fact, I had to write a personal statement as part of the application process, and my statement was about my desire to make a difference in Birmingham.
It was actually prior to all of that that I got my first experience working in politics. In the summer of 2000, after my freshman year at Morehouse, I’d worked for U.S. Congressman Earl Hilliard. I spent the first half of the summer working in his office in Washington, and the second half here at home, working in the district — not just in Birmingham, but traveling all over the Black Belt. I worked in the local office here again the following summer.
So for me, the idea of being a lawyer was not to go to work for some prestigious law firm and bill a lot of hours and make a lot of money. It was about growing as an individual, in a way that would enable me to better serve my community, and to become a leader.
I got my law degree in 2007. But I also discovered that, for me, the real way to make a difference was in politics. I became an organizer, working on campaigns at all levels, in Alabama and elsewhere.
I learned a lot, and what I concluded was this: There has to be a space in politics where you have good candidates, running for the right reasons. We need candidates that people not only work for, but that they can believe in. We saw that at the national level in 2008, with Barack Obama, but I also saw it in some of the state and local races I worked on over the years.
All of that brought me back to Birmingham City Hall. I had clerked in the city’s Law Department during my last year of law school, so in 2009, I applied and was hired as a lawyer for the city. I’ve been there ever since, with the City of Birmingham — the city I love, the people I love — as my client. I’ve been able to defend the city, to work as an advocate for victims of crime, and to work with our Police Department, which has so many hard-working officers who care about their jobs as the protectors of this city.
I first ran for a seat on the Birmingham Board of Education in 2009. I lost that race, but the way I ran the campaign, and the issues I focused on, caused some people to take notice. I was asked to serve on the finance committee of the school board, as well as on several other boards that deal with educational issues. So in losing, I actually won, because I was better prepared to run successfully for the school board in 2013, and to be able to come to that job with more knowledge, more background, more connections that made me a better board member than I would have been otherwise.
One of the things I’ve learned is this: If we’re going to change Birmingham — if we’re going to make Birmingham work for all of its citizens, and be successful as a city over the long haul — our emphasis has to be on investing in our young people. Not just in education, but in all aspects of their lives, in every area that encourages and supports their growth and development and provides them with opportunities to be engaged in the ongoing growth of the city.
One of the things I’ve learned is this: If we’re going to change Birmingham — if we’re going to make Birmingham work for all of its citizens, and be successful as a city over the long haul — our emphasis has to be on investing in our young people. Not just in education, but in all aspects of their lives, in every area that encourages and supports their growth and development and provides them with opportunities to be engaged in the ongoing growth of the city. That’s why I want to be Birmingham’s mayor. And that’s why I’m running now. We are at a critical time in the history of this city. We have tremendous opportunities, but we also have tremendous obstacles still to overcome. To do that, we need new leadership — leadership with vision, with dedication, with energy. We need leadership that truly cares about our city and its future.
If you are part of Birmingham — regardless your age, your race, your economic status, the part of town you live in — I want to make a difference in your life. I want to make Birmingham better for you.
I want to be your mayor.