These two men, Jackson and Birmingham’s youngest mayors, are the oldest elected in the history their respective cities. Both men ran as progressives, drawing comparisons to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic presidential candidate. They were seeking to lead the most populous areas in their respective states. Both cities have African American populations exceeding 60 percent, with poverty rates that are well above the national average of around 15 percent. Jackson has more than 30 percent of the population living in poverty, while Birmingham’s rate is only 24 percent. Lumumba, Woodfin and others are trying to diversify their income streams by requesting more philanthropic funds and building relationships with Republican leaders in their states. As part of a Community Investment Network discussion about philanthropic activism, Mayor Woodfin visited Jackson recently. Mississippi Today spoke with Mayor Lumumba about the importance of cities in alleviating poverty. This interview has been edited to be more concise and clear. Mississippi Today: I was informed that Birmingham’s poverty rate fell between 2011 and 2017, and that the city is experiencing a rapid increase in population, likely at the expense Jackson. What have you seen as the most successful strategies? How can you help maintain that momentum for sustainable growth? Mayor Randall Woodfin Jackson is the priority, and I don’t believe Birmingham is doing anything at Jackson’s expense. Concerning poverty, I would even admit that I wasn’t aware of these numbers. Our poverty rate is unacceptable. How can I help combat that? It’s multiple. Education is my number one priority. Our new superintendent has a genuine, tangible and real relationship with me. When I was on the school board, my relationship with her began. We hired her. Her support includes workforce development and training, as well as scholarship opportunities for four-year and two-year colleges. Early childhood education is the real gem in this investing in education piece. We can ensure that they don’t grow too big before they go to middle school. Second, creating economic opportunities. The bottom line is that there are a lot of words to describe how I want to bring jobs to my community. People have to work, and the more employment opportunities, the better we can help people get out of poverty. This is not limited to minimum wage jobs. I am referring to employment opportunities that pay livable wages. Mississippi Today We see a lot philanthropic activity, but the needle has not moved much in the Mississippi Delta. How can you ensure that the needle moves when you are pursuing these relationships with philanthropic organisations? Mayor Randall Woodfin Birmingham has always been in the top 10 most charitable cities. We give. Foundation community, non-profit community, and black church community — all of this is sitting on a lot money. You have all these hospitals but no one has access to healthcare. There’s still poverty. Despite all the giving, there is no reduction in poverty. It is my job to fix that disconnect. How do you do it? You have to get some people in alignment. We’ve found that many people give, but they do so in silos. These silos have created an environment where people feel proud of their contribution, but they are giving their part as individuals and not as a group. This is preventing us from moving the needle in the right direction. My job is to break down these silos. Mississippi Today Same question for you Mayor Lumumba Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba We face similar circumstances. There may be slight differences in the degree of difficulty, but we must approach it in similar circumstances. If you ask me about philanthropic circles, and whether the needle has shifted in any way, I will give you a critique of myself and the ways in which we collaborate to achieve our common goals. Next, I will offer my critique of many philanthropic organizations. While it is a worthy effort, the philanthropic institutions in this country are not doing enough to engage in the resources. They often leave the table once they have provided the resources and don’t provide oversight to ensure that they are meeting their goals and aims. We need to ensure that the right people are at the table and that they hold them accountable. Mississippi Today Some people may think that there is a lot of money in the city because they see signs at Fondren. They believe the city is spending it on white neighborhoods. How can you convince people in West Jackson or South Jackson that this is not true? Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba This is the central idea behind the discussion: To ensure that underserved communities get the resources they need. Your question really is about privilege. I am regularly contacted by people about the happenings in Fondren. People talk to me about Fondren and give credit to the city. They have to hear me tell them “Well, thank-you, but the city’s not doing that.” The community was able secure the funds for themselves, and they are organized. That is one of the many benefits that the community enjoys. This community has access wealth and other resources. These resources go far beyond financial. It is also human capital. It’s relationships that communities like West Jackson and South Jackson lack. My belief is that if your goal for success is to have someone else see value in you, then you don’t have one. You have a list. You have a wish list. We need to push the boundaries and show how we can reinvest from a self-determined location. Where we see crowdfunding mechanisms, cooperative business that support our community. Mississippi Today: How can you convince funders that you have the flexibility to use those resources in the way your cities require? Mayor Randall Woodfin We see a three-legged stool when we look at successful cities. There are three legs to a stool: the government, the private and not-for profit sectors. Without these three elements aligning, nothing will move in any given city. The leader of the city must lead the alignment. In terms of being progressive leaders, the mayors in Jackson, Miss. and Birmingham, Ala. will push this issue and say: Here’s the vision for a town; here are the goals, priorities, and strategic plan for a municipality; this is the direction that we’re heading and where we need to channel resources. If you don’t have this alignment, or you don’t exercise the chief conner role, then you won’t see the benefits for those who live in your cities. Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba demonstrates how all institutions’ concerns are interdependent to bring this collaboration together. Operational unity is used to identify your common goals and objectives and use them instead of the differences. Fair housing is affected by poverty. There is an opportunity in your community to impact crime directly if you have problems with crime. These are the messages you need to spread so you can bring together those groups. The conversation started by talking about Jackson’s declining population. It has been studied to determine that the millennials are the most affected by our population decline. This is especially regrettable considering that we are a college town. Jackson has 40,000 college students. We are literally allowed to audition to be able to live in the city. We are focusing on what they want in terms of quality of life. What do they most want? They want opportunities. Because if there isn’t enough opportunity, you can increase poverty and have a smaller population. They prefer urban, walkable cities. It’s also the demographic that Jackson is losing the fastest, and the same goes for Mississippi. Jackson sees this as the best chance for himself and the state. Mississippi Today Both you are mayors of the largest cities within your states. These cities are Democratic and operate in conservative Republican states. Mayor Woodfin: What is Birmingham’s relationship to the Alabama legislature? And the governor’s office in Montgomery. How can you use that relationship to advocate for your city’s interests? Mayor Randall Woodfin I love the rule books in professional sports. There are rules for the game. Local politics has rules regarding how you should engage. Birmingham is like other cities in the state. They don’t have a home rule. You have two options: work with the legislators and cooperate, or you can buck all laws. Yes, I am a proud Democrat who believes in the people I serve. I acknowledge that I don’t have home control and must work with Republicans in the Legislature if I want to provide resources for the people I represent. Here’s an example: Every state receives federal money from the Department of Transportation. Our dollars don’t arrive directly at the city if they pass through Montgomery. These Montgomery legislators don’t believe in public transport. They believe federal funds for transportation should be used to build roads. This is why we have difficulty getting money from Montgomery for transportation. My role is to tell legislators to consider removing some of this money for public transport. Here’s why: We have a mutual need, desire and desire for Alabamians to be employed – not just Birminghamians. They must get from A to B. Public transportation is a great option to reduce Birmingham’s unemployment rate. It also helps the state’s unemployment rate as people can get to work. We share the same priorities, regardless of whether you are a Democrat/Republican. Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba Respect is central to this conversation. Let’s not forget about the imminent state takeover at Jackson Public School District, where Gov. We were able to come to an agreement with (Phil) Bryant. Most people would have bet that we wouldn’t have reached an agreement if they had been betting before this happened. We didn’t go into the room and talk to the governor about the many issues we had. We did not discuss the problems we had with his ideology, or his position on a variety of issues. We talked about what was troubling him. This would be happening under your supervision, we said. This is the second-largest school district in your state. How successful have state takeovers been in Mississippi’s history? They have not only failed in Mississippi, but they are also not successful across the country. Are we following the right playbook? He admitted that he felt stretched in a moment. While he felt there was an urgent need to correct the Jackson Public Schools District, he didn’t feel confident with the prospect of a state takeover. He stated that he wished he had another option. So we returned to the lab to create a third option for him. This would have allowed those who have the most to loose and gain the most to be involved in making these decisions. However, this does not necessarily mean we will always reach consensus. Instead, we can use a process I call unity to bait unity. All of us can come together in a room and identify the areas where we agree with each other. You can have a discussion about the differences between your perspectives, with the main objective of achieving greater unity at the conclusion of the day. You can hear more from our conversation with Mayors Lumumba & Woodfin in a future episode on The Jungle Podcast. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to us today as part of the Spring Member Drive.