Photo by Dewayne Bingham
By Jillian Waterhouse, Staff Writer—
In preparation for Chattanooga’s 2021 mayoral election, local organizations have been busy hosting candidate forums to highlight their positions on specific topics. Semillas, a grassroots organization based in Chattanooga, moderated a mayoral forum focusing on immigration and marginalized communities via Facebook Live on Feb. 19, 2021.
In attendance were three mayoral candidates: Dr. Elenora Woods, D’Angelo Davis, and Monty Bruell. Wade Hinton, another candidate, was unable to join the livestream but participated through comments on Facebook. While 15 candidates are running for mayor, making this a historical race in Chattanooga, only a fraction chose to participate in the Semillas panel. With Semillas’ panel focusing specifically on minority relations in Chattanooga, notably, all candidates who accepted the invitation to participate in the forum were African-American.
Semillas’ mission is to create a culture of social change in Chattanooga which pushes to achieve racial and educational justice for all. Such a movement would be led by the youth and marginalized communities who call Chattanooga home. The name of the organization is inspired from the following quote: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Semillas translates to the word “seeds” in Spanish.
Moderated by Keana Walker, Kyle Carrasco and Mo, co-founder of Semillas, the forum was intended to generate discussion from the mayoral candidates on topics such as educational justice, gentrification, and coalition building in Chattanooga.
Dr. Elenora Woods introduced herself as a Chattanooga native, single mom, and civil rights activist of 31 years running for office with intent to offer clear-cut solutions for the city.
D’Angelo Davis, also a Chattanooga native, explained that his campaign is centered on moving Chattanooga forward into a new era of progressivism in which we will unite as a city to heal the torment and neglect faced by our marginalized communities.
Monty Bruell, a candidate from the Alton Park neighborhood of Chattanooga and the first black graduate of Baylor School, identified the purpose of his campaign as being a representative for all residents of Chattanooga, making specific mention of undocumented immigrants. Bruell emphasized his campaign’s focus on transforming Chattanooga into a sanctuary city through opening an office of immigrant affairs and refusing to cooperate with ICE.
In response to a question which asked candidates to detail the actions they would take once in office to end “crimmigration,” and ensure that all community members of Chattanooga feel safe, candidate answers differed.
While Woods placed an emphasis on making Chattanooga a “constitutional city,” as she pressed that it is not unconstitutional to be undocumented, Davis explained that a disparity exists within Chattanooga’s latinx communities because of mistreatment and bullying faced in the educational system. Bruell responded that Chattanooga’s biggest issue lies within the fact that Hamilton County operates the jails, and thus as mayor he would collaborate with the county to come to an agreement in which jailers would not report any Chattanooga residents to ICE for deportation.
All three candidates expressed their support for creating a form of municipal identification, or a Chattanooga ID. The ID would work to allow all residents of Chattanooga, including those who are undocumented, to access community resources such as the Chattanooga Library and public transportation. Additionally, all candidates were in agreement that opening an office of immigrant affairs would be a priority once elected, as this would simplify the process of obtaining support and community for Chattanooga’s immigrant population. Bruell elaborated,
ensuring that if elected, both a Chattanooga ID card and an office of immigrant affairs would be created within his first 100 days in office, due to his concern that the latinx community and undocumented residents are not being properly assisted as is.
When asked about the potential of collaborating with Hamilton County schools to benefit students and parents coming from marginalized, immigrant, and working class communities, all candidates expressed support. Woods emphasized the importance of the city of Chattanooga remaining connected to its students, as she related the importance of education to her own. Woods, a licensed dentist and recipient of a dual Bachelors degree in biology and biochemistry, repeatedly underlined that the key to success is education throughout the forum. Davis stated that free childcare must be provided for all children in order to have a functioning educational system, and that resources must be made available through collaboration with surrounding counties. Bruell outlined his plan to partner with Bryan Johnson, the Hamilton County school superintendent, to greatly increase funding for early childhood development and prepare an educational plan that individually follows every child from grades 6 to 12 in order to ensure their success.
As Semillas is concerned with all forms of education, including topics such as civics, LGBT+ issues and public health knowledge, candidates were asked about their plan to incorporate non-traditional topics into youth education across Chattanooga. Woods said that community recreational centers could handle this curriculum outside of educational access, while Davis suggested a partnership with local providers and faith based networks. Bruell outlined a plan to reach out to community groups in order to develop this curriculum for various areas, as this would be faster than a reworking of the Hamilton County school system.
In response to a question regarding what actions the candidates would take in order to empower and support the youth of Chattanooga, considering that the city is home to both Chattanooga State and UTC, candidates detailed their plans for these relationships. Woods outlined what she had already done to develop and sponsor youth programs, and explained that if elected, she would provide more opportunities for youth, such as career training and mock interviews. Woods also highlighted that she is in the process of proposing a trade-school program for Chattanooga in order to provide alternative options. Davis emphasized the importance of investing into mental health resources and funding for creative arts programs in order to promote a safe space for youth in Chattanooga. Bruell discussed the importance of allowing youth to identify their passions early on, in order to improve their educational experiences. All candidates agreed to commit to meeting with a youth coalition on a regular basis once in office.
In addition to questions proposed by Semillas, a Q&A session was hosted with questions from Chattanoogans. During this portion of the forum, all candidates expressed their support for providing more sexual education to youth in order to prevent unexpected pregnancies and sexual health problems. Bruell specifically highlighted the importance of bringing a Planned Parenthood center to the city, while Woods reinforced her opinion that all Americans should have equal access to healthcare with no barrier to contraceptives. Other topics covered included reducing the homeless population through providing housing, assisting immigrant students through providing supplemental lessons in addition to ESL, limiting gentrifiers from pricing black and indigenous people of color and low income community members out of their neighborhoods and instituting plans for Covid-19 relief in marginalized communities of color.
Early voting is open until Feb. 25 and Election Day is March 2. As of Feb. 21, over 5,000 Chattanoogans have voted. Absentee ballots are available for students who will be outside of the Chattanooga area during the election cycle.