Our Youth-Led Mayoral Town Hall

On Thursday, September 28th, Liberty’s Kitchen held its first event in our brand new Taylor Center for Young Leadership. The inaugural event was none other than a Young Adult-led Town Hall forum featuring the mayoral candidates. The event was put together by fellow YLP/YMVP intern DJ Bolling, myself, and members of our Youth Leadership Council (Andryan LaGarde, Kiall Wilson, and Nadja Sampson).

After attending the Spring Lobby Weekend hosted by The Friends Committee on National Legislation where Nadja, DJ, and I learned how to lobby by telling your story, DJ and I came up with the idea for a town hall forum. We realized the power that young adults have when it comes to voicing their opinions on the issues that matter most to them.

We started planning the forum in June. From the inception to the execution of the event, we knew that we were in charge of organizing a project that took a great deal of time and effort to execute. Many hours were poured into meetings and research sessions to ensure that we were able to put forth a quality event that would allow not only participants of our Youth Development Program (YDP), but young adults around the city the opportunity to voice their concerns about the issues they find the most important to potential leaders of our city.

DJ having a conversation with Michael Bagneris during the meet and greet portion of the town hall.

I’m glad to say the event was a huge success. Featured on our panel of candidates were Michael Bagneris, Manny “Chevrolet” Bruno, Edward “Ed” Bruski, Edward Collins Sr., Brandon Dorrington, Matthew Hill, Derrick O’Brien Martin, Tommie A. Vassel and Hashim Walters.

Before the start of the forum, candidates had the opportunity to talk with their potential constituents during the meet and greet portion of the event.

The topics of the town hall forum were drawn from both participants and alumni of our Youth Development Program. In preparation for the event, over the course of the summer, during every other Friday, DJ and I held a series of informational workshops, conversations, and presentations deemed “Advocacy Friday”. Throughout these sessions, we discussed topics such as lobbying, apathy in the political process, utilizing social media to have conversations on important issues, and other issues that the participants of the program found to be the most pressing.

After narrowing down the wide list of suggested topics, we found that the 3 topics that participants and alumni found most important were: The Criminal Justice System, Minimum Wage, and Homelessness.

Audience members during the town hall forum.

Next, came the outreach portion of our project. In order to have an audience for our event, we reached out to various youth-focused organizations in the city along with any of our personal contacts involved in similar organizations, letting them know about our plan to have a young adult-led town hall forum. Along with said organizations, we also tapped our alumni base to see what issues they found to be important and invited them to be a part of the forum. In the process, I also learned how to write a press release to attract news media to our event, a skill that I’m sure will be quite useful in my career.

From left to right: Alum Kenisha Charles, Joya Barconey, and Jayy Riley.

Alum Kenisha Charles, YDP participant Jayy Riley, and alum Joya Barconey, volunteered to each present one of the 3 questions, which were voted on by participants and alumni prior to the event. The questions included:

  • “As Mayor, what will you do to curb crime in the city? Will you put more NOPD officers on the street? Or do you have a different approach to making New Orleans safer? (Criminal Justice System)”
  • “As Mayor, what will you do to increase the minimum wage while ensuring the cost of living doesn’t outpace it? (Minimum Wage)”
  • and “What are your plans for reducing homelessness and helping homeless people get the resources they need? (Homelessness)”

Hashim Walters discussing his plans to improve the city’s outdated water pump systems.

After the preselected questions, we opened the floor to audience questions. The questions ranged in topic from blighted properties to fixing potholes in the street and what should be done about the city’s water pump systems.

When asked about what they would do to improve the city’s water pump systems, Hashim Walters offered a creative solution: in order to inform people about the status of the pumps, he would utilize an app that would notify people which pumps are in working order with updates once a week outside of hurricane season and notifications every four days during hurricane season.

Lita Farquhar asking the candidates what they would do to improve the lives of hospitality workers.

Overall, the audience was highly satisfied with the answers that the candidates gave. Lita Farquhar, Director of Community Engagement at R.E.A.C.H. Out NOLA, who asked a question about what the candidates would do to improve the lives of hospitality workers, noted: “It felt like a one-on-one experience, and I feel like a lot of voices got heard that usually don’t get heard.”

Assane Ndiaye asking a question about how the candidates would improve the condition of damaged roads in the city.

After the event, I had a chance to talk to Assane Ndiaye, a student at Benjamin Franklin High School, who had a question about how the candidates would fix the various damaged roads in the city. He said, “I think the event was very helpful, in terms of deciding who’s the best for the job. I know I can’t vote yet, but I’m starting to see how we’re moving away from our kind of shady type of politics in New Orleans to more open conversations and leading to change. I think all of the candidates here seem like they were open to being open with us instead of what we’ve been seeing, which is more closed in.”

The event ended just a little while before 7 p.m. With the audience feeling content about the issues that the candidates covered, we were able to end the forum earlier than planned with our thoughts focused on how we could possibly follow up this momentous occasion.

Our Mayoral Town Hall Forum may have been the first major event in our brand new space, but it certainly won’t be the last. We look forward to bringing you many more exciting, informative, and thought-provoking events in the near future.

Posted by Ahmaad Lott, YMVP Intern

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