By Mahalia Cummings
AVillage aims to bring the people who are shaping your community to you. Some of them can seem larger than life, but at AVillage we want to highlight the fact that we can be the bridge to the sometimes overwhelming issues of public policy and education. Our Thursday Meetings are an avenue by which we can bring a level of rare connection between South End residents and the leaders that have an influence on your community.
Last month we were honored to welcome the Honorable Carolyn McLaughlin, who counts educational advocacy as one of the many causes she has fought for over the years. AVillage hopes to help make the connection in the dialogue between residents when it comes to elected officials and school administrators.
Making change starts with helping the people of the community to be heard, no matter what. On Thursday, November 9th, AVillage is excited to welcome Albany School Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams to our weekly community meeting, in which we hope to shed more light on what community schools mean for our children.
Our newsletter and our Facebook page will keep you informed of future Thursday speakers. The third Thursday of the month will be devoted to speakers on health and health advocacy — a major focus of AVillage and a major concern in our community.
A Conversation with Hon. Carolyn McLaughlin
The Honorable Carolyn McLaughlin is a woman of faith. She shares that through her committed work to public service, and that continued faith has kept her unwavering presence in the fight for social justice in Albany. Serving as a representative of the South End in the Common Council, and then the President, she has rich experiences to share.
“I wanted to be a voice for people who couldn’t be for themselves - or who just wouldn’t because they were intimidated by the process,” She said. Standing at the center of community residents who are closely listening, Carolyn was the embodiment of a leader of and for the community. Having the pleasure of interviewing her the week before the meeting, it was clear that much of the topics discussed at the meeting rang true to what we spoke about privately.
As Carolyn spoke emphatically about a myriad of subjects — senior services, socio-economic equality, employment, community engagement, and more — it was clear that her twenty years of public service was mired in passion. She said this of running for office: “You can’t do it if it doesn’t come from the heart”. It’s evident from the way Carolyn talks to her constituents to the plans in her mayoral platform, that she is all heart.
One of the most pressing issues in the South End is educational justice. One of the ways that manifests is through Carolyn’s role in the Black Women’s Association of Albany. She got involved just over a decade ago, and has since established a scholarship in memory of her late mother which helps young girls go to school. Carolyn sees the uplifting of black women as a crucial marker to our society’s progress. She believes that the Black Women’s Association should continue to embrace women of all ages, and sees the generational gap as less of a chasm and more of as a source of wisdom and an opportunity to pool collective knowledge and varying perspectives.
The championing of diversity is one of the core tenets of Carolyn’s political career. “You need to have people that represent all interests in every level of government...You need diversity of thought,” she says. “And that comes through having diversity. Because people come from all different backgrounds, and they bring different concerns to the table. Be it the ethnic background, LGBT community, seniors, youth. If someone’s not there that has that global interest, then you very well may be the last person they talk about.
“And by the time they get to your issue, there’s no money, or the team is burned out,” she says. At its best, local government can hold up a mirror to people of the community. Not only in the sphere of local politics, but in the educational system. On a practical level, policies made by a diverse set of people can greatly benefit the marginalized, especially students.
One of the issues that Carolyn hopes to be more vocal about in the future is the lack of black teachers in our schools. “I think we have to look at our schools - we know how diverse the population is or is not because 80-90% of those kids are kids of color. But yet, the teachers in the schools don’t reflect that.”
Carolyn talks about how students of color who see themselves reflected in their teachers can get a needed self-esteem boost. And it’s not about ethnicity alone. “They seem to have a sense of pride, have a sense of self esteem that comes from that teacher standing in front of them that they’re likely to see in their neighborhood, that they’re gonna see in church, or see in the grocery store. Because that’s another thing: they live in their city.”
Education is largely informed by policies that are made by seemingly distant representatives. And although meetings with people like Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams are a start, Carolyn makes it clear that the issue is ingrained in our institutions. “You have to look at some of these as a systemic things that affect the outcome of our childrens’ education.”
We also talked about what non-profits can do to continue to make sure people have the tools they need to “Never give up on trying to give the information to people. Because one day it’s gonna click,” she said.
Carolyn McLaughlin was one of the original members of AVillage. She remarked on the evolution of the organization over the past eight years. “I think the growth has been phenomenal. And when Willie mentioned that it’s been eight years, I remember when we had the first meeting in the park up here and there was about five of us. And I said to him, ‘Don’t be discouraged. Come back next week.’ ” Carolyn knows Willie White had the vision that the achievements AVillage has made today were within reach nearly a decade ago.
“What AVillage does.” she said, “is give the ordinary person an opportunity to realize how they can have an impact.”