What was billed as an afternoon with two brand-new young, progressive mayors recently elected to serve two of the blackest cities in America quickly turned into a perfect example of how new ideas, radical thinking and a new guard of black leadership are changing the political landscape for African-American voters.
We should pitch this movie to Hollywood. I can see the movie posters now: Woodfin and Lumumba: Ride Along 23. It’s a buddy-cop drama about two mayors who hit the streets in a search for truth and justice. Fighting crime and poverty, they form an unbreakable bond along the way.
I haven’t determined who’ll star in it, but I bet it would be funnier than any Kevin Hart movie. Then again, isn’t everything funnier than Kevin Hart? I bet the Donald Trump pee tape is funnier than Hart’s last Netflix special: “Same Delivery, No Punch Lines.”
Anyway, Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was in Birmingham, Ala., for Neighborhood USA’s 2018 conference aimed at strengthening neighborhoods. Lumumba won his city’s mayoral race less than a year ago, promising voters he would make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet.”
In Birmingham’s contentious October 2017 mayoral election, Randall Woodfin won 58 percent of the city’s votes by promising new and progressive ideas to the city’s black electorate. His victory was considered an upset by many residents in the majority-black Southern stronghold often controlled by the city’s old guard.
According to the 2010 census, Jackson’s black-population percentage ranks second among U.S. cities with 100,000 or more people, while Birmingham’s ranks fourth. Even though neither mayor has reached his 40th birthday, Woodfin and Lumumba were elected to lead their respective cities into the future.
Because their cities share so many attributes, the two mayors thought it would be a good idea to tour the city, chop it up and share some of their ideas. They invited The Root along for the ride because ... OK, I’ll admit it—it was probably the black thing.
The conversation ranged from Kanye to crime, from politics to poverty, as they rolled through the neighborhoods of Birmingham. You can check out an excerpt of their discussion below:
After visiting the site of a newly approved stadium and contemplating ideas on turning some of the city’s abandoned structures into job producers (including an old hospital), the two decided to walk through the streets of the city, something they seemed very comfortable doing.
Although Woodfin and Lumumba are heralded as rising political stars, they both seemed at ease when we rolled up on a game of spades. Although I am supposed to be objective, I can report that the mayors agreed on one of the most important issues facing the black community:
They both said the “Guaranteed” joker is the big joker.
The mayors visited the original site of one of the oldest and most popular black-owned businesses in Birmingham, the iconic Green Acres Cafe. That’s right, the black mayors went to a chicken restaurant, where the discussion soon turned into a debate about which HBCU was the best (Lumumba attended Tuskegee, while Woodfin attended Morehouse).
Both men decided that they needed to get back to their busy schedules, but then Woodfin was stopped on the street by a Birmingham resident who hadn’t seen him in years. The gentleman flagged us down, and I was sure things were about to get heated.
“Man, let me tell you, this dude saved my life!” the gentleman told Lumumba about Woodfin. He explained how the now-mayor helped him through legal trouble years ago, proudly explaining that he had found a great job and hadn’t been in trouble since.
It became apparent that there is a value in black leadership and people who are connected to the communities they serve. There is a vast difference between a “constituent” and a neighbor, and the political future for black voters lies in distinguishing between politicians who try to represent our communities and those who are those communities.
“That’s why my administration is a ‘we, us, our’ administration,” Woodfin explained.
Both men say they know they face uphill battles in their efforts to change their cities. “It’s why we needed a radical approach,” said Lumumba. “Not me. We.”
I didn’t say tell them, but if politics don’t work out for these two young guns, there’s always this buddy movie I’m writing the script for.