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ESSENCE Empowerment: Mayors’ Panel Tackles Gentrification, Homelessness

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“When cities get it right, our country thrives,” remarked Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. That was the tone of Saturday’s ESSENCE Empowerment Experience discussion among four mayors: Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, Aja Brown of Compton, Kasim Reed of Atlanta and Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans. Moderated by MSNBC host Joy Reid, the panel highlighted each of the cities’ top priorities, including jobs, education, youth empowerment, and equal-opportunity housing. 

Mayor Rawlings-Blake jump-started the conversation, saying “As mayors, we’re in the driver’s seat,” drawing attention to the fact that more than 80 percent of cities in America are metro areas. Mayor Brown highlighted Compton’s 126-year history, and her goal to elevate the city’s reputation after a strong association with gangsta rap and violence in the 90s. Mayor Reed said that Atlanta’s crime rate is at a 40-year low, and the city’s working to invest in long-term careers—not short-term jobs—for its residents. Mayor Landrieu heralded New Orleans’ NOLA for life program, which promotes violence prevention, as well as the city’s recent recognition by the U.S. Conference of Mayors as the most livable city. 

The discussion took a spirited turn when Reid asked Mayor Brown about her aim for Compton to follow in Brooklyn’s footsteps and become more marketable by rehabilitating its image. Reid wondered if that would translate into gentrification.  Brown, a former urban planner, had a clear message: “Gentrification is the result of poor inclusionary planning.” 

The panel ended on the topic of President Obama’s challenge to all U.S. mayors to end homelessness among veterans in their respective cities by 2015. Each mayor demonstrated a steadfast dedication fulfilling the charge.