1. Please describe your educational and professional background and how it has prepared you to serve on the City Council.
I was born and raised in the 12th district of Baltimore City, and attended schools here in Baltimore. At age 12 I was given the opportunity to study in Kenya at the Baraka School, and I was featured in the documentary The Boys of Baraka. I attended high school at the Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE), a charter school in Hampden. ACCE was opened when Martin O'Malley was Mayor along with guidance from researchers at Johns Hopkins University as a school which offers opportunities to explore higher education at Johns Hopkins and Baltimore City Community College, as well as career possibilities in local businesses, non-profits and local government agencies. After graduating from high school I began studying film production at MICA. As a trained artist, I am able to use much more creative methods of looking at and solving problems. I have also served as Marketing Director for Taharka Brothers Ice Cream, a company which hires young city residents in order to teach them the skills and benefits of entrepreneurship.
2. Why do you want to serve on the council? What would your top priorities be if you are elected?
I want to serve as councilman in the 12th district because there has been a lack of leadership and vision from the current representation. My community needs someone who has the passion, vision and energy to serve the people. I am that person. I was born and raised in the 12th district and attended public school in the district. I understand this community and the problems that affect them. As the youngest candidate to ever run for city council I truly understand the young generation that has been place on the back burner throughout this district! As councilman my top priorities will be to first invest in youth opportunities throughout the city, secondly work on decreasing the vacant housing problem, third to work on making our communities cleaner and lastly providing incentives to local businesses to hire local.
3. Do you support Baltimore's current crime-fighting strategy? What changes, if any, would you advocate for to improve public safety in the city?
I do support the current crime-fighting strategy put into place by Commissioner Bealefeld and Mayor Rawlings-Blake. However, we need to build stronger relationships between our police and citizens. When my parents were growing up police officers used to walk the beat and officers knew who lived where. We do not see much of that anymore in the underprivileged communities where the most crime is occurring. We need dedicated officers that want to be a part of the community and not that just want to police the community. As councilman I will propose a plan where we start recruiting officers that live in Baltimore City and give incentives to get current officers to move to Baltimore.
There are many cases of police brutality in our city. In these cases most people do not get the information of the police officers involved, because they do not know their rights. As councilman I will sponsor a "police zero tolerance act" which will make it mandatory for all officers to give their information when doing any stop even if not asked, so that the city can track down any officers that do not honor their badge properly. Providing information will make the officers think before they embarrass the entire police department and the Mayor.
Lastly we need to lower the recidivism rate in Baltimore. The only way we can reduce this rate is to provide jobs. Jobs will help reduce crime levels in Baltimore. We also need to look into early crime preventions for our youth. I will advocate that we add an early career/job training curriculum in our middle schools and in recreational centers. It is important that we reach our children early so they will not get caught up in gang and drug activities.
4. Do you support the recent reforms in the Baltimore City school system? Do you believe any changes are needed in the schools' governance structure (such as direct mayoral control or an elected school board)?
I think Dr. Alonso has a done a great job with controlling the schools and putting them on a right track, but there is still a lot more that needs to be done to improve our schools. As a product of Baltimore City schools I know firsthand what works and what doesn't work for our students. As a recent graduate of these schools I also have a strong understanding of what is happening in the schools on a day to day basis.
We need to focus on early education, by raising the standards of excellence in our students. By the time our children reach high school, they should already know how to read, write and do math. High school should serve as a time to prepare our children for the real world and to enhance their reading, writing and math skills, not a time to teach basic skills. High school should be like college where children pick the school of their choice, and the school builds a diploma program around the student's interest. Our children need hands on education. Not only will this keep our children motivated in learning, but it will raise the college attendance rate for our city.
We also have 7 colleges in the Baltimore city area; we need to partner with them in helping us educate our children. We can use the college students to help tutor and mentor our children. We can also use the professors to help train and mentor our teachers. We have to utilize our resources to the fullest to ensure that we are providing our children with the best education in the country and that we are helping our teachers do so.
5. How would you address the city's backlog in school maintenance and renovations, estimated to be as much as $2 billion?
As a product of Baltimore public school system I know how important it is to renovate and maintain our schools. I have been in classrooms where the heat wasn't working during the winter and when there wasn't any soap in the bathrooms. I have been in classrooms where water would leak from the ceilings. This is not the type of learning environment we want for our students. Learning under these conditions is very hard, and achievement in Baltimore schools will not improve until the conditions in our school facilities improve.
The Mayor proposes that 10% of revenue from slots should go towards fixing making these necessary renovations and improvements. I propose that we double that for the first 10 years to 20%, and then scale back to 15% after that time. I will also advocate getting private companies to donate to our schools. It's all about building relationships within our communities. We should focus on building relationships with churches, non-profits, local businesses, students, parents, teachers, state and local government to maintain our schools. If local businesses donate materials or labor towards some of these renovations, we would be able to raise the necessary funds much more quickly. There are also some improvements which members of the community could do themselves with volunteers. People take more pride in things they've invested in, so why not get people in each community and neighborhood to invest in their schools, whether it's through their money or their time.
6. Property taxes have become a major issue in this year's election. Do you believe the city's tax rate needs to be cut? If so, by how much, and what steps would you take to keep the city's budget in balance while lowering the rate?
I do agree that the property tax is too high. We need a realistic plan to cut this tax without having to cut essential services. Most importantly, we need to increase our tax base in Baltimore. The more people that live in our city, the more money we generate, and the more we can do. In order to do this, the city should first target city workers that do not live in the city and offer incentives to move into the city. As we continual to improve our city schools and lower the crime rate, I strongly believe that we can get people and businesses to move back to our city. As councilman, I will look into other ways we can lower our property tax or provide better jobs for families to live comfortable in our city.
7. The city has faced large budget shortfalls in recent years. If that trend continues, what top priorities would you protect from cuts? In what areas would you pursue spending reductions?
As councilman I would ensure that there will be no cuts from public safety, education and opportunities for our youth. I would continue the work done by the current Mayor and City Council to make cuts while not reducing city services and also not firing a single police officer or fireman. It is also important that we protect our schools from any cuts, as they are already struggling to get by with their current budgets. I would also protect after school programs for youth as well as recreation and parks so that we can ensure that our children continue to have activities to occupy their time when they are not in school and therefore keep them out of trouble. In order to protect these three areas, I would look into ways to cut unnecessary spending in city agencies.
8. Baltimore has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last decade. What would you do to encourage economic development and provide employment opportunities for city residents?
Small business in Baltimore has been the stabilizing force in our economy. Entrepreneurs are the spine of creativity and production. A small business stimulates economic growth in our city. With this being said, I plan on creating an "equal business act" which will give local small businesses privileges that are equal to those of the big corporation's downtown. We need to cater more to small businesses, and incentivize all businesses in Baltimore to hire people from Baltimore City. Jobs start with having great stabilized businesses.
As our economy improves, when we have the ability to do so, I will advocate to offer seed money to help citizens start their own businesses. I will also partner with current top business owners in the city to help me encourage other big businesses to move to Baltimore.