As Black History Month draws to a close, we had the opportunity to speak with Council Member James Brown and ask him a few questions about his own personal journey, what Black History Month means to him, and how he feels our community can continue to grow and improve.
Q: How has your identity or culture impacted your career path to this point?
Council Member Brown: I think it is the centerpiece of my career path and who I am. I think the position that I am in comes with a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility, and a lot of expectations of not wanting to let people down. Being elected as the first African American at-large council member. Nobody has achieved that here in Lexington since the merge of the government. I feel a sense of accomplishment, but then I also feel a huge sense of responsibility – to be a good example, to be a good public servant and representative of the community. The community as a whole, as well as the local black community here in Lexington. So, you know my culture, my identity, kind of ties directly into the motivational force around what I do on a day-to-day basis.
Q: What made you want to be involved with local government? What got you here?
Council Member Brown: Well, what got me here is the things I was involved in before I got on the city council. I was involved in the school system. I was involved with my neighborhood association. I was involved in the local business community, and I saw the lack of opportunity for neighborhoods to grow, for people in certain neighborhoods to improve their quality of life, among other things. I felt like I was making an impact at the school level and at the neighborhood level, but I felt like there was an opportunity to have a greater impact on the city council in local government.
So, you know, that’s kind of the motivation. To give more folks the opportunity to help improve neighborhoods that have historically been disinvested in. I know some of the projects, some of the initiatives, and some of the policies that we’ve worked on, I think are really giving folks opportunities, really improving communities, and showing to people across this city that what happens on the north side of town impacts what happens on the south side of town. There’s a famous saying, and I repeat it often, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” So to make this chain as strong as it can be, you gotta lift up folks, strengthen families, and give as many people as possible in this city the opportunity to be the best version of themselves that they can be. So that’s really what motivates me.
Q: What is the most important thing that you want to accomplish with your position?
Council Member Brown: I think there are a couple of things. I want to be an example to others, that somebody like myself who grew up here locally, somebody that didn’t go to college, that opportunities to do things that really weren’t in the cards or the script for you, that you can do it and that you can obtain it. I talk to kids a lot and a lot of kids, you can look at ’em and I think they’re just kind of going through the motions. They don’t see themselves as a leader, or they don’t feel like they can have an impact and change their communities. But I think that if you put your heart to it, you put your mind to it, and you’re determined and focused, you can do anything that you want to do. Not everything’s always scripted out. Not everything is laid out for you. Sometimes you have to feel your way in to get there. So I want to be an example to others that you can be and do amazing things even if you don’t know that you can.
The other thing is, the word that I feel like I’ve been using overusing lately is opportunity. You can’t want it more than the people that you’re trying to provide it to want it. But I think we have a responsibility as leaders to open doors and create opportunities and put folks in the best position to be successful and to take advantage of those opportunities. So I wanna do that on every level.
I want to give folks opportunities to own homes or to stay in the communities that they want to live and stay in. I want folks to have the opportunities to get the jobs that they want and to be able to provide for their families at the level that they want to. I want folks to be able to enjoy this city and this community recreationally and the things that make Lexington what Lexington is. You know, our history isn’t always the most glamorous, but let’s be honest about it and let’s accept it, and let’s learn from it and build on it. I just want to create opportunities at every level and every chance we can, so folks can be the best version of themselves that they can be here in our city.
Q: What figure in Black history do you look up to the most and why?
Council Member Brown: That’s a tough question. So many people. I don’t wanna sound cliche or anything, but, my folks, my ancestors, my parents, and my grandparents, they paved the way for me. They gave me the strength and opportunity and confidence to be who I am. I have nothing but respect and admiration for my parents and grandparents and I’m blessed to still have my mother and father alive today.
I’ve heard all their speeches and all their lectures multiple times, so I don’t always want to hear ’em, but I love having the ability to reach out and talk to them. And, you know, surprisingly enough, I’ve been here for 46 years and I learn something from them every time I talk to them. They share something about their parents. They share something about their childhood, or they share something about another member of our family and some accomplishment. I value that and try to do the same thing with my kids.
So, I could have named a historical figure or some popular figure, because there are several to choose from. But I’ll give that credit this time to my parents and to my family. I appreciate them.
Q: How inclusive do you feel that Downtown Lexington and Lexington as a whole are, and how can we as a community continue to grow and improve?
Council Member Brown: Being somebody that lived here, and grew up here my whole life, I always felt that downtown was inclusive. When we started having the conversations about the Confederate statues and the courthouse plaza, I never [personally] felt like those statues made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to be in that space. But, you know, during the conversation that we had… I [learned] other people didn’t feel the same way. So we as a community took a large step forward with the relocation of those statues and I think there are other spaces in this downtown where the real history needs to still be acknowledged and shared and I think it will make it more inclusive for more folks throughout this community.
But I think it’s a work in progress. I think Lexington, we don’t always volunteer and run to do some of the hard things, but I think once it gets put in front of us and it gets put out there as something that we have to address, I think we step up and try to address it in a way that gives us a chance to build on it and to move on, and to make folks feel welcome. Like I said, there’s still a lot of opportunity for us to do that in Downtown Lexington. We just have to keep working at it. But I think we have proven that we can and that we’re willing to do that and willing to have the hard conversations and make the hard decisions.
Q: Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you would like to discuss?
Council Member Brown: I think with Black History Month in our community, you know the black history that this city has, hasn’t always been a good one. But, I think we still have a responsibility to share the local black history and how the black community here has helped build this city, has helped build this country. Black folks here have a right and deserve to be here, deserve to have an opportunity to celebrate their history, to acknowledge and celebrate the good parts, but then also acknowledge the bad parts. And I think that’s just as important – so folks know the history [and we] put those reminders in place so we don’t repeat it and that we do everything that we can to prevent people from not feeling included, and [make sure] that all spaces feel inclusive in this community.
I think we gotta continue to flush out some of the untold history and we still need to look for opportunities to build on and work together [with] everybody in this community, both the black community and every demographic. I think we’re doing some good things, but I think we still got a lot of room to grow. But like I said, we’re up to that challenge. We have to be.
Thank you again to Council Member Brown for his time and for his thorough and thoughtful responses.