Nashville, on Election Day, our chief responsibility is to determine how best to move forward

As I take stock of what is happening in Nashville, I am equally inspired and horrified.

I am in awe of all of the transplants who flock to Music City in droves because they’re finding out what we natives have always known – Nashville is a wonderful place to live. I am inspired by the growth and development happening across the city, re-envisioning and re-imagining the spaces in which we all live, work, and play. I am honored to be among all of the people with whom I get to work on a daily basis who roll up their collective sleeves to make this place a city where all residents can thrive.

But, as much pride as I have in my hometown, I also should a tremendous amount of shame. Why? Because while I wholeheartedly believe Nashville can become the ‘most equitable city in America,’ we are scores away from that moment. While I personally think the growth is exciting, I am worried that our neighborhoods are changing at paces that do not allow those who have lived there for decade a chance to remain in the communities they love. I am mystified that so many workers – teachers, small business owners, firemen – cannot afford to live in the city in which they work. I am horrified that people and businesses are being displaced at rates we’ve not experienced before. I am outraged that many of our leaders cannot seem to come together on equitable solutions to address the ills that plague our public education system. I am troubled that in this moment of prosperity, many residents are experiencing a tale of two Nashvilles. One for the ‘haves.’ One for the ‘have nots.’

We got here because our past city officials made some missteps – incentives that maybe prioritized business over people and perhaps a property tax rate that does not generate the revenue to adequately fund our most pressing needs. These admitted missteps have inadvertently forced us to perpetuate an ‘us versus them’ mentality instead of one that promotes prosperity for everyone. But how we got here is certainly not more important than how we choose to move forward.

Today, Election Day, we have a choice.

We can choose to forego progress and go back in time trying to fix what ails us by spending conservatively and treating everyone like equals. Or, we can choose a more progressive route and move forward by prioritizing equity – creating a Nashville that recognizes we have to provide more support for certain groups of people, especially those who have historically been left behind or those who live in marginalized communities.

What we decide to do today will play a major role in how we will arrive in the future.

For me – a fourth generation Nashvillian who grew up in both east Nashville and Antioch, an African-American woman who was educated in Metro Nashville Public Schools and graduated from Antioch High School and Tennessee State University, and a small business owner who is often on the forefront of advocacy around eliminating systemic barriers in procurement, credit, and banking so entrepreneurs can thrive – creating a Nashville that puts everyone on an equitable path to pursue the future of their choosing is of chief importance. In my view, pursuing economic equity and empowerment is one way we get a chance to create that type of Nashville.

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve gotten an up-close view of some of the work that goes into creating that type of city.

In April 2018, I was tapped to become chair of the Minority Business Advisory Council. Since that time, our committee has been involved in many deep and important conversations around what steps need to be taken and what barriers need to be removed to ensure the equitable distribution of public contracts. In August and again in November 2018, I beamed with pride as Mayor David Briley committed to implementing all of the recommendations put forth by disparity study consultants and announced he would be pursuing the Equal Business Opportunity Program, a feat for women and minority owned businesses. In June of this year, I was excited to see Nashville be selected as a Living Cities cohort member for the foundation’s inclusive procurement accelerator.  In July of this year, I watched my mentor nod her head in deep approval as the city unanimously approved the historic Equal Business Opportunity program – a measure for which my mentor has been advocating around for more than 20 years.

This is just a slither of the work I know is happening around economic equity. It is an important mission, one that ensures we can create one Nashville for everyone, and it must continue beyond Election Day.

Nashville, I am counting on you.

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