NUVO: First of all, would you describe what the role of deputy mayor for neighborhoods is going to be?
Olgen Williams: Well, under Mayor Ballard, I think, the deputy mayor for neighborhoods should be out there in the neighborhoods. I’m going to listen to neighborhood concerns and issues, and then see how we can deal with those concerns raised with the resources we have available already. It’s about working with them and their plans to control their own destiny; just being a facilitator and a support for them, because those people in the community know best.
NUVO: What would you like to accomplish in the next six months? Are you still at the point of getting to know people around the city?
Williams: Getting to know people, seeing what plans are already out there; I’m quite sure we’re not trying to undo anything or reinvent anything. If it’s working already, we want to keep it working and see how we can improve on it. I know there’s the GINI neighborhoods [Great Indy Neighborhoods] started in the past administration. It’s still out there in the neighborhoods and has done lots of work.
We’ve got six plans on the table right now. We’re going to look at them and see how we can tie the GINI plan into the whole city plans for quality of life issues, hopefully tying in some faith-based stuff and some ex-offender reintegration plans. We’ll see what’s out there and just move forward at that point.
NUVO: Do you have any long-term plans? What do you hope to accomplish by the time you leave here?
Williams: We’d love to see a reduction in crime, see the quality of life improve, self-empowerment of the neighborhood groups getting involved. We’d like to see a cleaner city, with the neighborhoods and residents getting involved, going back to “Don’t be a litterbug”: Everybody is concerned about trash and fixing a broken window in all communities. Other issues are trying to make sure that we can find people jobs; the creation of business coming into the city, make sure it’s attractive so they want to come into Marion County; working with people coming out of arrest or imprisonment, making them a citizen in a community; working on the abandoned housing issue to reduce those numbers of abandoned houses and vacated properties (maybe they could be a homeownership opportunity for someone who has never had a roof over their head permanently); and working with the education system to improve the graduation rate in the county.
NUVO: You’ve already done some work as a community leader, uniting diverse communities — Haughville, Stringtown and Hawthorne, all places with [people of] different backgrounds. How can you bring that to your work to try to unite, in some way, a very diverse city?
Williams: I’ve found out in working with people that we basically all want the same thing. You take a list of basic things: food, clothes, shelter, protection; the other things that we want are clean streets and alleys; we want potholes filled. So we all basically want the same thing. I’ve found out that if you respect people, treat them with respect and civility, give them an opportunity to express themselves, and show them that they are of value and that we’re all in this together, that you can come together. We may have our differences in areas, but differences can strengthen us; we may not even all agree in a room, but the goal is to have a solution when we leave the room.
NUVO: How can you crack down on peoples’ defenses, so that you can show a certain amount of respect if there’s reasons that they don’t trust the city?
Williams: I’ve found that when people work together and accomplish goals, they find out that they can trust one another, and that we’re all in this together as citizens of Indianapolis, and that we cannot, by any means, not work together. The mayor was elected by the citizens; therefore, this administration [is made up of] servants to the city, and they can trust us, because we’re here to serve you. We have no hidden agendas: The mayor is open and honest, the finances will be open, and we’ll be honest about what’s been going and what we’re doing. So there’s nothing to hide. And we’re going to try to take the resources, be good stewards of those resources and give them back to the community.
NUVO: You’re already written about what you see as the keys to successful community organizing. I’m wondering, on the other side of the fence, as someone that now facilitates organizing, how you think you can make that happen.
Williams: We can’t do it by ourselves, and I’m no guru, or magician, or magic person. I realize that there are lots of great people that have great ideas out there, and there are lots of great practitioners out there that do the work already, and have the resources. And what we’ll do is pull from that pile of resources, give people an opportunity to exercise their ideas and their thoughts, and process and bring solutions together. Realize that we’re just servants of the community, and the greatest leader is the greatest servant. So we’re trying to encourage leadership in a way that, if they lead, they’ll begin to see results. That’s when they’ll see that they have to step up and be part of the process; sometimes that [involvement] is appreciated, sometimes it’s not. But you’ll see the results in changes in the neighborhood, in accomplishments that you’ve done. So, I’ve found that when people accomplish things, they feel good, and they want to get more involved.
NUVO: Just in these first few weeks that you’ve been here, what have you been surprised by? What issues have been brought to your attention that you were unfamiliar with?
Williams: Surprised? I don’t know if I’m surprised, but I feel like Mayor Ballard has an awesome vision for the city. He really means it. He’s not trying to do away with old practices, but he’s trying to shift the paradigm somewhat, to allow the city to control its own destiny, and allow the staff to get out and do new things. Surprised? No surprises, but you get a deluge of requests and program ideas right now, which is great; we need those. Just the great surprise is probably the fact that so many people want to get involved; so many people want to be part of building this community up. And they really want to be: People keep on saying, “I want to help. I want to help. I don’t want a job; I want to help. Let me help. If you need volunteers to come and clean the office up, let me help. I have an idea, and when we get time, I want to talk about it.” So it’s kind of surprising that there’s all the people that really want to jump aboard with Mayor Ballard and make this work for the city.
NUVO: Would you dare to compare — in terms of working on community issues — Mayor Ballard and Mayor Goldsmith? I think you described Goldsmith as an “out-of-the-box Republican”; would you say the same of Mayor Ballard?
Williams: Out-of-the-box in the sense that he’s not what people would think he would be. One, he’s not a politician — not that there’s anything bad about being a politician, by any means — but I think he’s in it for real results; he’s in it to see quality of life improve for all citizens of Indianapolis, leaving no one behind. And I can’t compare him 17 or 18 days into the job. Mayor Goldsmith was good to work with; Mayor Peterson was good to work with. My job is just to serve. Mayor Ballard has a vision for the city; our goal, as part of that staff, is to help him complete that vision. It’s yet to be determined what it’s going to look like in four years, but I do know we have four years to do what the vision is calling for: to improve the quality of life for all citizens in Indianapolis in all strata of life, and to deal with some negative elements.
I’m very optimistic, very excited in my first two and a half weeks on the job; I think the whole staff is excited about the leadership that we’re working under; and we’re getting great community support. Everything’s not going to be perfect. We’re probably going to make a few mistakes, maybe lots of mistakes; I don’t know. But the key is trying to pick ourselves up after those mistakes, trying to correct them, and moving on. We can’t do it by ourselves; it takes the whole city and all the citizens of Indianapolis to be concerned about this city. It takes everyone willing to step up to the table. We have a truckload of criticism; there’s no problem finding that. We’ve got the blockers and knockers. What we’re trying to look for is people with solutions: solutions that can be done short-term, mid-term, long-term. And we ask those residents to come to the table. It may be a homeless family that has a solution about homelessness, so we need to listen to that family. It may be a CEO in a corporate office that has a solution about gang violence. So we want to listen to everyone, and we want to see what's doable and what we can implement to improve quality of life.
NUVO: How will you make yourself accessible so that people can get those ideas to you and to your office?
Williams: I will make myself as accessible as possible. There’s 24 hours and seven days a week. I won’t be accessible all those days, not every hour; I’ve got to spend some time with my wife Mary. But most of my time. My phone number is here — my phone number is easy to find. I’ve got an e-mail address, an executive assistant that will help us plan. I cannot be the deputy mayor of neighborhoods on the 25th floor: I have to be the deputy mayor of neighborhoods in the neighborhoods. I have to be out there with the people and listen. They’re going to have to give me some time, though, to help put the work together and put the players into place. We’re going to be out there as much as I can — I have no problem working late at night, my wife is accustomed to that from Christamore House anyways. At Christamore I had to work six days a week anyway, and now I’ll have to work six and a half days a week at this job. But it’s enjoyable; it’s an avocation and vocation for me. I really enjoy and feel really blessed to have this opportunity to work in this administration. No one asked me before to do this type of work for the city. People asked me, “How did you get the job?” I filled an application out and got interviewed. People don’t believe me, they thought I campaigned, did some stuff; no, I didn’t do that.
NUVO: You mentioned one lapse while you were a community organizer, where the city announced a huge program behind your back and you were taken by surprise — I think it was the Youth Fair Chance grant. I’m wondering how you can avoid that in your position, as far as taking some step without community involvement.
Williams: I discussed this with someone yesterday about a program someone sent me. I said, “I want to do it. But does the neighborhood know about it? Have we told the neighborhood about it? It’s not for me to say OK; it’s for them to say OK.” I may think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if they don’t think it’s the greatest thing, then we have to relook at it, and tell the people or developers that the neighborhood said no. So you’re going to have to go work it out with them. Everything that’s on the table that we’re thinking about doing, I’m going to make sure to bring it to the community and say, “Let’s have this conversation.” If we think we want to go for a grant in a neighborhood, maybe on a short timeline, I’m going to call the neighborhood. I don’t want to call the neighborhood leaders and organization to the table after we put the pins on the map. I want to call them to help put the pins on the map; therefore, that empowers them, they have ownership, and you get a better plan that way.
NUVO: What do you think of the argument that was made about the Front Porch Alliance that city monies or federal monies shouldn’t necessarily be directed towards faith-based organizations for various reasons: separation of church of state … ?
Williams: I don’t think there was any city money, maybe a little …
NUVO: I think there was a balance of …
Williams: Maybe a balance of grants, donations. The faith community is a part of the city of Indianapolis, a big part. The Front Porch Alliance is going to be reformed, but it won’t be … If a person doesn’t have any faith, that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of the Front Porch Alliance. The Front Porch Alliance won’t be a pulpit to preach religious dogma. The Front Porch Alliance is going to be a vehicle to address quality of life, using the faith community as a resource. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of it: It’s going to be diverse in its makeup and its structure. It’s going to go out to all communities as a tool to address quality of life. We don’t have a religious dogma to preach in the city; we have an interest in quality of life, and to ignore the faith community is like ignoring the police community or the education community. You’ve got 1,100 churches or more in the area, and that’s a great resource. We’re not trying to get into a synagogue or mosque to tell them how they’re going to do that. We’re saying: You’re in the community, why not be a part of the community and a tool of the community?
One thing we learned in the Westside is that we embraced everybody, no matter what religious belief you had, or if you had any. Because, it you’re an atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, whatever you may be, you do not want to drive your car across a chuckhole or a pothole. You do not want to live in a community that has trash on the streets. So if you don’t believe in a higher power, believe in a higher power, if you’re just agnostic, we can clean up the alley together, and you’re not going to not use the shovel because the church bought it, are you? It doesn’t matter who bought it, and the goal is to get them to buy it with their money.
The most we are going to try to do is find resources to try to, perhaps, add through private donations and funds, and somebody has to lead it and organize it. So I think people will be happy with the Front Porch. Some people just want to be against something because it’s of faith. And understand that, without the faith community, perhaps we’re missing the opportunity to do more to address homelessness, to address abandoned homes, to address foster care, to address domestic violence, so we can lead that person out … If they have a solution to domestic violence, because they’re people of faith, are we going to argue that point? My thing is, don’t worry about the people of faith, you go and do something. It’s going to be a good thing. We’re not trying to create a city church, a city faith organization; it’s not what it’s about.
NUVO: There’s a quote here in “The Star” that I think kind of gave you a challenge to work with different organizations throughout the city. This was Cathy Burton, president of the Marion County Alliance for Neighborhood Organizations. She says, “He certainly has a lot of experience advocating for neighborhoods considered the most at-risk. I hope that he begins [to be] familiar with other neighborhood groups too.”
Williams: I think that I’m familiar with other neighborhood groups. I was one of the founding board members of the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, along with Cathy, and President Cochran. I know my kids went to a suburban school in Wayne Township … If you live in Haughville, or if you live in Nora, or whatever, does the quality of life change, or your needs? You may prioritize differently — somebody may have concerns about land use, and believe it or not, we have concerns about land use. They have concerns about billboards, and the city has a concern about billboards. So, we’ll take the best practices of the suburban community and bring it into the urban community, and realize that we have more common ground than you realize. We can’t be against one another because we’re all citizens of Indianapolis. Mayor Ballard is the mayor of the residents of all of Indianapolis.
I agree that there will be some more impactful things in the urban community, such as crime or unemployment, which we have to address. I believe that a suburban community can help us bring solutions to that, perhaps. Because our goal is to bring solutions to eradicate crime, not just to stop it, not to let it go any further than where it’s at. So I think that they’re going to have to help educate me on their needs and concerns, because I don’t read minds, and that’s the good thing about it. The thing about it is, if they come along with us and with me, I’m going to listen and I’m going to share. But we have to get away from urban/suburban issues; they’re city of Indianapolis issues. Among the first people I first worked with when I first started was Ruth Hayes; I learned a lot from her. Mary Walker. I’ve known Cathy Burton for a while; she’s a strong advocate. I’ve listened to these ladies and people for a while, and I’ve learned a lot from them; they don’t know it, but I’ve watched their style and how they do it. I appreciate their style of leadership, and I want to continue to help them mentor me and educate me on their concerns.
NUVO: How can your work tie into Mayor Ballard’s campaign to make Indianapolis a safer place to live and make public safety an initiative? As far as community policing, what role can you play in helping to strengthen that?
Williams: I think we had a great part in community policing in the Goldsmith Administration; it actually started on the Westside. We helped create it, so I know lots about community policing. It started on the Westside, and it spread. We have an excellent relationship with the law enforcement community. Crime is committed not in a vacuum; it’s committed in neighborhoods. So neighborhoods play a valid part in the reduction of crime. And our goal is, with the neighborhoods, to encourage them to be part of the law enforcement community by working with them to identify and eradicate crime in their community, and to show them how valuable they are, that they can be a catalyst in the reduction, the full reduction of crime, by working with the Police Department in a vital way. I feel that we can strengthen community policing by educating the community and the law enforcement community about the issues and concerns of the city, putting our heads together to work together to do this.
As we develop community policing, I think people will get excited that we can actually identify issues and concerns that we can meet on a common ground about, and that we can be the best friend of the Police Department in neighborhoods. As we create neighborhood watch clubs, block clubs and appreciate and celebrate successes together, the bad guys will realize that this is not a good place to be. Or that crime really does not pay because everyone’s watching. I went to a conference on open-air drug markets, and there’s one community that sells drugs open-air, and that’s primarily the African-American community: that’s known and researched.
What you do with the neighborhoods, you can eradicate this — there’s a plan and I won’t go through the plan — and once a plan was started, and they cleaned the community up overnight, the neighborhood embraced it, and when others tried to set up dopehouses in the neighborhood, people came to front yard and said, “Oh no, not here.” That’s the kind of stuff we want to see done. “You’re not doing it here; you’ve got to close that. We know what you’re about.” And the people got to go. Rachel Cooper closed over 57 crackhouses on the Southside by being proactive many years ago. She knew how to do it. We can get rid of these folks. They’re like weeds; you’ve got to weed it everyday.
NUVO: Is that a matter of just getting out there on the street, being present?
Williams: Being present; educating our young people about the consequences of bad choices; being proactive; keeping our neighborhood clean; getting out resources to help those people that are struggling socially, economically, and trying to plug them into places where they can get help, and you know, there are a lot of resources out there. Where you shine the light on them, folks will flee. The problem is, the more aggressive the community, the more that once they eradicate crime out of the community, criminals will go someplace else, so everyone has got to be on the same page here, so that criminals will say, “Well if crime doesn’t pay, I’m going to go out and get a job.”
NUVO: What do you think are some of the most significant things you helped to accomplish at the Christamore House, and what do you think you left undone?
Williams: One thing is that we were able to have a high-grade staff to do the work. We saw lots of improvement on the building, additions put on; the space gave us the opportunity for more programs. We saw the “Weed and Seed” initiatives thrive and be a vital national model. A few years ago we created the “Peace in the Streets/Stop the Violence!” marketing campaign, to work on non-violence; I think that’s one of the things that’s still there that we’d like to potentially go on with. I think that we were able to be a great resource for the community, seeing new business come in and being a part of that, seeing development and independent living [for senior citizens] being built, Christamore Court.
As for programs, the cultural and music program were left undone; we’re trying to create a music studio for kids to do podcasting; we’d like to create that piece so we can get the community out there. We’d like to increase, at Christamore House, our early childhood development program, and open up more space for a job readiness and job training program, and then a rehabilitation program for ex-offenders. There are some things still on the map for the planning board, but I think we’ll go forward with other people.
NUVO: What qualifications as a community organizer do you bring to the job?
Williams: One of the things is, I know where the smart people are; I know the practitioners, people that are doing the work, people of integrity, commitment, dedication. So I know the people to call on to do the work and get the work done. I think my training ground was at the Christamore House for those 13 or 14 years: It was instrumental in enabling me to grow personally, to become a professional, in coming from grass-roots neighborhood work to becoming a professional, even though the Christamore House was still a grass-roots community organization, and I still lived two blocks away when I worked there … The mayor told me — and it encouraged me — “Well, look at the whole city as Christamore House now.” He really encouraged me, just with those great words; he doesn’t know how much he encouraged me. It took some fears away from me too; I said, “Well, that’s a good way to look at it.” Christamore House worked outside of the neighborhood too; I tried to support everyone if I could on some issues, not just the Westside.
Then knowing how to identify the people and find solutions is so important, because I don’t have all the ideas, and I can’t do it by myself. It takes working together if it’s going to work.
NUVO: In your time on the IPS board, what did you learn about the state of public education?
Williams: One thing I learned is that the IPS school board does lots of work, and you’ve got to do lots of reading. I learned that Dr. White is a great leader, has a great plan for 2010. We have the best urban school district in the country: I believe that. Once we put in place some of the things he implemented — and I know he had his critics — the accountability of the teachers, the accountability of the staff, the accountability of the students was awesome. And I think that we were in good hands with him, and that he needs a strong board to support his ideas, because he’s the educator. I’m not an educator — I raised my 10 kids, put them through school — but that’s what he does. I can review the tons of policies they have, review the finances, make sure that the school district is being accounted to taxpayers, and I learned that if you have a good board, it takes a lot of commitment to be on that seat. I enjoyed it, but there was a big learning curve from it; the second year I learned more about what was going on, felt more comfortable, and I realized that there’s people out there that really care, and that are really doing some hard work for those 35,000 students, who have to be addressed because we can’t leave them behind.
NUVO: Why do you think, in general, it’s better to approach things in sort of a piecemeal way, instead of a unified approach: treating public safety or transportation …
Williams: What is unified? You can’t unify neighborhoods because the neighborhoods are people, and people are accustomed to their problems, and probably have the best solutions, lots of the time. We are a support services forum. You’ve got to listen to the peoples’ concerns: Who knows better about what goes on on Kenwood Street than Ms. Smith? Who knows better about what’s going on in Franklin Township than Cathy Burton, or in Nora than Ruth Hayes? So that’s why it’s important, and when you put all these neighborhoods together, what do you have? The city of Indianapolis. The city of Indianapolis is made up of neighborhoods and those are the people that you want to get in the process. We’re a body, and bodies are made up of different organs, and each organ is made up of billions of cells: so you’ve got your neighborhood, and all of them have a role and place. Some need greater care than others; some need more resources than others. Some go on well by themselves and are doing great. And we’re going to pull from them to help us strengthen the weaker, to graft their solutions onto another neighborhood, to be big brothers to another neighborhood.
The city is a big body: Hands have a role, and feet have a role, and we’ve all got to work together to make it work. We all have to work together; we can blame or find fault in the weaker neighborhoods, or we can come in and try to strengthen them. So it takes us working together. I’m always saying, “You help this neighborhood. Strengthen it. Share your ideas. You may have 80,000 people in the neighborhood that have it well, but let’s put the fishing trip off for a little bit, come down here and maybe tutor somebody, and help get them through high school.” We’re in it together, and we’d like to be a big happy family, but we’ve got a long way to go.
NUVO: Thinking back to your time with WESCO, what do you think worked when the city started to contact you, talk to you, solicit your ideas, and how are you going to take that to this job?
Williams: When I first started working with my community, the deputy mayor that worked with neighborhoods, I don’t know what her full title was, was Nancy Silver, now Rogers. I can remember this day, when she said to — when we were having meetings around Weed and Seed and Building Better Neighborhoods — we had this auditorium full of people, and we had city staff there, she was there with other people, and we had a table full of people from the city. We were in the audience listening to them. She said, “Our goal is to have you sitting at this table, with us sitting in the audience listening to you.” And she made that happen. Our goal is to keep those people sitting at the table, with us listening to them, and with us going out to help them solve those problems.
NUVO: How did she help you make that happen? How did she help to put people in positions of power?
Williams: She listened, took ideas, helped facilitate ideas and accomplished goals. Then we just slowly picked up confidence. Then they brought training in through Robert Woodson and the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise to help train us on how to work with government, how to work with engineers and inspectors, how to be civil and respectful. We learned training, how to conduct meetings, and then slowly, they rotated out and gave up leadership. Sometimes I think they wish they hadn’t given up leadership, because we became very empowered. So we realized that we should be in power, and control our destiny. We learned that you’ve got to work with people; you’ve got to move sometimes off of your spot. You just can’t always win; you can’t always be right. It may not always be your method, but to accomplish the same goal, you’ve got to empower yourself, but you’ve got to bring some humility with it, to realize that, “All right, I’m in control, but their idea is probably better than our idea.” The only reason we knew about zoning was because they taught us who to talk to and who to call. Then we flooded the switchboard with calls because we knew who to call, and we demanded that it happen.
NUVO: Will you offer education and training through your office?
Williams: Well, we don’t have to do that through this office; we have the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center that was created for that purpose. They have the programs, and we just have to value them and embrace them a little bit more, and tell the various communities to get involved and go to their training. There are other groups that do training: the United Way, where we can send neighborhood leaders to, and we can train them, and they can get empowered.
NUVO: Coming into this office, do you see anything done during Mayor Peterson’s administration you can build on? There’s a lot of talk about the Front Porch Alliance … Do you see yourself as picking up where the Front Porch Alliance left off, or was there work that Mayor Peterson did in the meantime?
Williams: Well we have GINI, which he created. Mayor Peterson did have a faith-based person. We’ve got to find out what’s going on. There was a person who worked with ex-offenders. We have the potential to build off things, and then create what we need to create. Peterson was the mayor for eight years, and he did some stuff — which I know a lot about — that we can continue to build on. We’re not trying to tear up anything and start over; we’re trying to rebuild on it and improve it. In some cases, start anew where there’s nothing there.
NUVO: Are what are the cases where you need to start anew because there’s nothing there?
Williams: The Front Porch Alliance: we want to build a partnership with the faith community to address quality of life issues. We want to look at the education piece and build off of what he created with charter schools, and look at alternative forums for education with IPS, and be a strong partner with them. So there’s a lot of things that we can look into, but it’s going to take us a while to look into things.
NUVO: Alternative forums like after-school programs …
Williams: You’ve got an after-school coordinator of course, but we’re looking into various partnerships with after-school programs, partnerships with youth programs, and then see what was going on there, and maybe build off of that. If it was working, why stop it? I’ve been half a month or less on the job, we’ve got to find a lot of stuff right now. It took me a while to find the restrooms; I found them finally. But we’ve got to find out what’s going on in the city. People call you and tell you, “Well, we have this program going on,” so we’re going to find that out. When we find out what’s working, we’re not going to say, “Hey we don’t want to do that.” Greg Ballard is not trying to say I don’t want to do that because it wasn’t under my watch. If it was working I want to keep on doing that. If it’s not working, I want to jumpstart it. He’s got to back away and take an evaluation and assessment of everything, to see what the outcomes have been and the results. He’s in the process of seeing everything … We’re looking at the outcomes of programs over the years, and if they have good outcomes, why stop? If they don’t have good outcomes, maybe we need to create something, produce something. We need results.
NUVO: Were you surprised to get a call back after putting in that application?
Williams: I had two interviews. I was surprised, and then that second interview, I met with Mayor Ballard himself on a Sunday evening. It wasn’t a very long interview. I said, to the question he asked me, “What you see is what you get here. I love communities, I love the work, and I would love this opportunity to work for you.” So I left it at that, and then he called me back and asked me if I would be on his team. I told him — and I had been thinking and praying about it anyway — yeah, I would do it. And then I said, “I don’t know if I want to do it, why should I leave Christamore House.” I told the mayor, “I’m not looking for a job. I’m not looking for a title. I’m looking for a broad opportunity to share with the community.” I’m not a spring chicken. As I get older, I want to continue to be of service to this community, and encourage my kids to be of service to this community. I don’t want to leave this world without saying that I helped someone, that I gave back. I feel that when we serve this community, it’s an awesome experience, when people allow you to serve. I tell people that I feel blessed because people allow me to work with them; they allow me to come into their life, come to their organization, come to their neighborhoods, share my ideas, listen to their ideas, and give them input and work together. That’s an honor to me. They don’t have to let me into their life; they don’t have to let me into their community; they don’t have to let me into Haughville, or Hawthorne, or Stringtown. They could say, “Who was he to come.”
I’m not a genius. I’m not rich. But I have a commitment to try to serve people, and I find out that when you serve a community, they have great ideas. My job is to try to help facilitate them; I’m the backup, the logistics. To me, this is an awesome experience; when I got elected to WESCO, that was an honor-filled experience. They didn’t have to do that. So when Mayor Ballard asked me to be Deputy Mayor of Neighborhoods, it was overwhelming to me. I just heartfelt was moved that he would honor me so to be a part of his team, knowing that my role would be to go out and listen to Cathy Burton, Rachel Cooper, listen to Shirley Webster, listen to some of the people when they say they’re going to work with us. That’s an honor. Who am I? I’m just an old Tennessee boy who picked cotton and had lots of issues in life. I appreciate it, I value it in fact; it’s overwhelming to have been offered the opportunity, and I have to be accountable to them, and be successful for them. Everybody’s not going to like me, but you don’t have to like me, let’s just solve the problem. I’m going to like everyone though. I’m too old to have that kind of negative energy in my life. I’ve got to keep all my energy in the positive, and the positive is to love folks.