Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Minority Caucus Reception, addressed more than 200 attendees, including over 30 elected officials, with passionate rhetoric denouncing oppression, and endorsing equitable economic development. Lumumba’s speech embodied the values Nashville needs to stand for in order to become the “Model City” that Councilwoman Sharon Hurt says she believes the city is postured to be.
Known nationally for his “radical” reputation, Lumumba has boldly embraced this label and has promised to make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet.” The Jackson Mayor reminded the audience that to be radical, is to seek change, saying, “we should be as radical as the circumstances dictate, we should be.” According to Lumumba, Mississippi’s traumatic racial history only reinforces the need for the city to move to the forefront of the revolution.
Lumumba comes from a strong familial heritage of freedom fighting: His parents relocated the family from Detroit to Jackson, to engage in what Lumumba’s father called “unfinished business.” The transition was a commitment to the movement, and to the ongoing fight for human rights. The mayor worked pro bono as an attorney defending the rights of people of color before taking on his mayoral role and views his consistent contributions to this “continuum of work,” as a way of keeping his parents alive.
The Mayor drew parallels from Jackson, to cities across the country, including Nashville. According to Lumumba, in neighborhoods across the nation, the problem remains the same. “Our problem is that we don’t control the curriculum that educates our children. Our problem is that we don’t control the economic development we see in our community. Our problem is a fundamental one: We lack the self determination to control our destiny.”
Lumumba offered a solution for disparities plaguing American cities, admonishing the ‘profits over people’ mentality, saying, “We need economies with dignity. Economists don’t study people, and we have to turn that on its head.” Not only was the system designed to perpetuate inequality, but as Lumumba suggests, it is “over performing” at this goal.
The Jackson Mayor did not shy away from the issue of race, pointing out how false claims of a ‘post-racial society’ following the election of Barack Obama, have fallen completely flat in the wake of Trump’s presidency. “I unapologetically support the development of Black businesses,” says Lumumba. He also stressed the importance of supporting cooperative businesses. Although some may falsely equate cooperative businesses with communism, Lumumba pointed out that even in a decidedly capitalist society, many of the most successful corporations are cooperative businesses.
In Lumumba’s own words, while the economy may be growing and flourishing, for some groups their “piece of the pie” continues to shrink. This scenario is all-too familiar to those Nashville citizens who have been left out of the city’s economic boom. As Nashville enjoys significant growth and expansion, it is essential that the city seeks to create an economy with dignity–one in which there is opportunity for everyone. Only then will Nashville reach its potential as “one city for all people.”