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Charlottesville's 1st black female mayor is stepping up

VOCAL:Nikuyah Walker

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA is notoriously recognised for its racial division, mounting tension and conflict in the community, which sparked its 2017 white supremacist rally and resulted in the death of civil rights activist Heather Heyer.

In response, the city reacted by electing its first black female mayor, Nikuyah Walker who has since challenged the Democratic Party for its failure “to do enough to tackle systematic racism and economic inequality.”

Making a call for deeper change, the 38-year-old experienced racial disparities first hand in her hometown. In an interview with The Guardian, she said: “Growing up here was tough. There’s a Michelle Alexander quote from The New Jim Crow: “The current system of control depends on black exceptionalism; it is not disproved or undermined by it.”

Her upbringing also meant that she was no stranger to witnessing neo-Nazi protests. “There have been many calls to return to normal,” she explained. “And I often have to say: ‘the normal for black, Hispanic, or low-income white people in this city is not a normal they want to return to.’

Walker’s campaign, titled “Unmasking the illusion” launched in 2017 undoubtedly played a role in the landmark public response at the polls.

Walker said: “We had this very racially motivated summer of hate, and then they’re at the polls [deciding] if you really want to do this work and face the truth, or if you want to go with the status quo and business as usual.”

Her victory has meant that she takes a 'more action' and 'less talk' approach in changing a divided city. “I’m attempting to make sure – and it’s painful – that people who work for the city, people who receive money from the city, understand that if they’re not moving the needle, making progress, changing lives, if they don’t truly understand service, they will not be in a position to receive resources, or I will criticize you publicly,” she explained.

Despite Walker’s milestone achievement, her political style hasn’t granted her a comfortable seat at the table, where like most black women in every sector feel that their position is constantly undermined.

She explained: “I feel like the majority of the city council, when I walk in the room, the conversation shifts. People are quiet. I’m kept out of a lot of discussions.”

Defiantly, Walker said: “It’s still worth it. It changes the conversation. They are no longer in control of the narrative. Whether they exclude me or not, I’m in the story.”

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