Mayor David Briley speaking at The State of Black Nashville forum held at Cathedral of Praise. Briley is joined on stage by his opponents, (l-r) Councilman John Cooper, Representative John Ray Clemmons, and Dr. Carol Swain.

By Wanda Clay

The community gathered for a public forum to speak on ‘the state of Black Nashville’ on June 27. Fox 17 on-air personality Harriet Wallace hosted the top mayoral candidate forum at Cathedral of Praise, 4300 Clarksville Pike. The event was sponsored by Pumps and Politics radio show where Wallace is also the host.

Participating in the forum was current Mayor David Briley and challengers State Rep. John Clemmons, Metro Councilman John Cooper and retired Vanderbilt professor, Dr. Carol Swain.

Wallace said this forum would be candid and necessary because “Every election sees candidates courting the African American vote and several people have approached me, frustrated with what they see as racial disparity in Nashville. They wanted to know how they can learn the future of Black Nashville and how to hold the next mayor accountable.”

The forum began with a recorded presentation of each candidate.

“The meeting was really about North Nashville and it’s priorities and concerns,” said one attendee. “It was a good forum, with the questions speaking to the heart of the African American community. Of particular note was the ‘yes or no’ question about whether or not the candidate would fire the police chief.”

The first portion was the ‘Lightening Round,’ which was simply answers of ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

Each candidate answered questions regarding Nashville’s police force accurately reflecting the community served; the current climate of racial tension, the police department and Police Chief Anderson; developers and gentrification, including displacement; economic inequality; housing; the support of high end shopping; support for development of the Clarksville Highway area; support for the increase of the mayor’s appointments of leadership from the Black community; and other issues. However, the candidates found it quite difficult to give a simple ‘yes’ or a simple ‘no.’

Going into the second round, candidates had two minutes to answer. This round consisted of questions regarding 21 Metro schools on the high priority list, most being underfunded with a lack of resources in schools such as Maplewood, Alex Green, Antioch High, Haynes Middle School and others. Candidates were also asked how they intend to offer their support.

Again, questions were brought up regarding Police Chief Anderson and how each would work with him if he remains.

These questions also consisted of thoughts of low income, economic development, affordable housing and mixed income housing—particularly in Bordeaux, yet also in other areas and the entire county.

Several questions were then taken from people in the audience to be intended for a specified candidate with one minute to respond. Audience members asked questions regarding charter schools vs. public schools. Rev. Barbara Washington asked Clemmons: “There’s a wall—why graduates of TSU are not being employed by the city once they become alumni?” Clemmons agreed and mentioned the fact that the city is fortunate to have four prominent HBCUs in Nashville. All candidates gave their perspective on ‘the walls’ set up in business, education and ‘good old boy’ connections along with the lack of affordability to even live in the city following graduation.

Other issues in question included teacher compensation; not raising property taxes in order to raise teacher salaries; affordable housing; and the lack of an increase in wages so that one might afford what is already owned.

The questions ended (from a youth) with the candidate’s thoughts on how the current presidency has an effect on the future. All candidates were in agreement that the current presidency is creating division and causing citizens to say and do things they wouldn’t have beforehand.

“The only thing that can be done is greater voter participation,” said Clemmons.

The forum ended with a ‘call to action’ to the candidates, asking surveyed ‘yes or no’ questions from community members. Questions included concerned: candidates’ support of activities held in Black communities; holding city officials accountable to offer voter registration to the citizens they serve; encourage public transportation to provide free rides to polls on election day; work closely with Equity Alliance for board and commission appointments; work with coalition partners to produce transparent tech inclusion; commitment to quarterly city engagements with Black residents to keep them informed; and support Black stakeholders and other underfunded Black organizations.

The forum closed with two-minute closing remarks from each candidate.

Following the forum, Meekahl Davis said: “The candidates really went after Mayor Briley pretty hard in this debate, criticizing his budget, support for the police chief, and lack of affordable housing. Briley pushed back more forcefully on their criticisms-coming out stronger than I’ve ever seen him.”

“We have a very important decision before us beginning July 12,” said Wallace. “Please be sure you know your candidates and who you want to put in office and the difference between a public servant and a politician.”

Participating partners in this forum include: Tequila Johnson, co-founder of Equity Alliance; Keith Caldwell, president of the NAACP; Bobby Stockard, steering committee of the Haynes Trinity Coalition; Rev. James Turner II, president of IMF; Susan Vanderbilt, board chair of the Nashville Black Chamber; Veronica Clark first vice president of Programming Nashville Coalition of 100 Black Women of Middle Tennessee; Dr. Katherine Brown of the Katherine Brown Leadership Academy.

If you were unable to attend, visit the website of Pumps and Politics for the live stream of the event.

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride. 

‘State of Black Nashville’ forum held at Cathedral of Praise

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