The Nashville Child and Youth Collaborative believes that a great city is measured by how it prioritizes its youngest residents.
On June 26, we were honored to host the For Nashville’s Future Mayoral Candidate Forum with Nashville Public Radio – 90.3 WPLN News and This is Nashville. The forum was moderated by Khalil Ekulona, host of This is Nashville, and featured four representatives from the Mayor’s Youth Council. Mayoral candidates responded to questions focused on the needs of Nashville’s next generation to help learn more about their platforms on mental health, education, transportation, and other issues that most affect children and youth.
300 members from the Nashville community joined our conversation at Family and Children’s Service – Honey Alexander Center.
Following the 2023 election season and run-off period, we look forward to working with Mayor Freddie O’Connell and his administration to keep children and youth at the forefront of Nashville’s key decision-making.
- What strategies will you pursue to ensure that Nashville families can afford to stay in the city?
- Will you commit to re-establishing the office of children and youth?
- If you were elected as our next mayor, what immediate action would you take to curb the climate crisis in Nashville?
- As mayor, what will you do to increase the number of high-quality and affordable childcare options for our families?
- How will you as mayor address underage substance abuse?
- Will you commit to developing a new child and youth master plan and annually reporting on progress toward its goals?
- As mayor, what strategies will you champion to balance the city’s economic development goals with meeting the needs of families in historically neglected neighborhoods?
- Knowing that school resource officer removal is a district decision, what will you do as mayor to address the physical and emotional safety of young people?
- If you could talk to your younger self right now, what would they say you should do if you’re elected mayor?
- Nashville is like a Girl Scout. On our Girl Scout sash, we’ve got a music city badge — we wear that title proudly. Now, we’ve got this massive new Titans stadium. That’s a badge. But there are a lot of badges missing from our sash. What badge are you going to start working on first, and why?
Nashville Mayoral Candidate Views about Children and Youth
Nine Questions and Answers with Nashville’s Run-off Candidates
Below are abbreviated transcriptions of an in-person Mayoral Candidate forum on June 26, 2023. The following selection of written questions and answers have been captured to help showcase the ideas, beliefs and commitments regarding children and youth that Nashville’s run-off candidates for Mayor have expressed. The full session was hosted by the Nashville Child and Youth Collaborative, along with Nashville Public Radio – 90.3 WPLN News. The forum was moderated by Khalil Ekulona, host of This is Nashville (WPLN’s daily podcast), and featured questions from four young adults representing the Mayor’s Youth Council. More than 300 members from the Nashville community joined the conversation at Family and Children’s Service – Honey Alexander Center. The full recorded video of the event can be accessed HERE.
1. Which strategies will you pursue to ensure that Nashville families can afford to stay in the city?
“Metro schools is having issues with barriers for working families trying to enter the school system. We didn’t have enough after school seats at the school where our older daughter started. I had to leave the office at 3 pm every day and I chose to lose a job and keep a school and stay there and fight. And now there are two onsite after care programs there. That lets working families come into that… We have the earliest high school start times in the country. That’s not a good thing. When I am mayor, count on me to do one of the most important cost of living things we can do as a city, which is to build a transit system we all need.”
“The issue around affordability for the city broadly and for our youth in particular, in the boom years when we were named the it city, we made a series of very unfortunate decisions that will continue to impact our youth for a very long time we kicked the can down the road on solving the employee healthcare liability issue for the city, and today our second highest budget item in our city budget, dollars that we cannot spend on programs for our youth, is being spent on debt. I’d like us to change that.”
2. Will you commit to reestablishing the office of children and youth?
“I will have a director of youth and children, and will also have an office of opportunity that will have a specific focus on youth opportunity and a lifetime of not just summer jobs but an incredible network I will commit to meet with the mayors youth council which is one of the most important existing councils we have to make sure we’re building a better city for the future on a regular basis.”
“I think that economic development and education have to be combined together and have to be a single focus for the mayor’s office. I don’t believe in creating an office of everything. I think we need to infuse a customer-focused orientation throughout metro government and I don’t think making a new title or department is the way to do that.”
3. Student Question (Madison): If you are elected mayor, what immediate action would you take to curb the climate crisis in Nashville?
“This is a ‘live your values’ question. For more than 20 years, we’ve powered our home with TVA’s green switch. When we had a solar energy program available, we started immediately subscribing to solar panels. My first car was a bike, I paired it with a bus. When I finally needed a car and my commute changed, I drove an alternative fuel vehicle. When I got the opportunity to turn my values into policy, we passed three critical energy policy bills that got us on track to have a renewable portfolio standard, which will have Metro 100% renewable within a few decades. We have stronger green building standards than ever, and we are on track to have a zero-emission fleet of vehicles. There are so many ways to be active about this if we choose to live our values in a way that we want to build the future for you all.”
“The highest point in the county today is named for my great-grandfather, it’s called Ganier ridge at Radnor Lake. That is a state park. Most people who live near Radnor Lake don’t care that it’s a state park or a city park. They care that citizens together worked with the state to purchase that land and create a park instead of 300 more homes, which was what was the plan, we cannot make generational decisions when we keep spending and creating these situations. And the last I’ll say, as a family that owns a farm, is we’ve got to protect our family farms.”
4. As mayor, what would you to do increase the number of high quality and affordable childcare options for our families?
“One of the fifteen fixes that I have proposed is to expand aftercare seats particularly in elementary schools, because that is often when children often cannot stay home safely by themselves. The problem continues into middle school where we need the Nashville After Zone Alliance to remain one of the strongest things that is a partnership with Metro. But this is also where we’ve done some of our smartest spending with our one federal time money from the American Rescue Plan Act where we invested in high quality childcare. That is something that the next mayor is going to have to figure out how to sustain and it’s a commitment that I am absolutely intent on making.”
“I think that part of building more childcare takes bringing the private sector in and seeing childcare as a workforce retention issue. We can treat childcare centers as a fast-tracked permitting process… the same way the city changed zoning regulations downtown with respect to how many parking spaces you need. What can we do to start to incentivize people to convert existing building space What do we need to do with other county mayors to advocate at the state level for some flexibility in the way that we build childcare centers?”
5. Student question (Hudson): How will you as mayor address underage substance abuse?
“It’s going to be really important to have a mayor who is invested in youth opportunity. It’s an opportunity to have places to go that are for all ages. When I was growing up in Nashville, I knew of a few all ages venues that some of my friends could go see live music at, it turns out that’s actually incredibly important and we have a handful in Nashville right now, but we also have an independent music venue crisis and that’s actually making it harder for people under the age of 18 to have places to go experience what Music City is. When we build out the East Bank, I want it to be a cluster of great urban neighborhoods with places that young people not only want to go but can go safely.”
“It is a terrifying and very real epidemic that we have, both mental health but also the access to drugs and in particular fentanyl and the extraordinary and destructive power that has. I think it first starts with what are we doing every in our schools to be places that are supportive of learning, what are we doing to not only protect kids from forces on the outside, but what are we doing to make sure they have paths to know who they are and what their future and what their purpose is. I do think that we have to reset some of the attitude that we have right now around drug enforcement and that we’ve got to actually – some people who are both dealing drugs and selling drugs need to spend some time in jail.”
6. Will you commit to developing a new child and youth master plan and annually reporting on progress toward its goals?
“I’m not going to commit to a new one. I’m going to commit to reviewing the one we have that we didn’t complete. we’re also going to revisit the Youth Violence Summit, which was easily as important as the Child and Youth Master Plan.”
7. As mayor, what strategies would you champion to balance the city’s economic development goals with meeting the needs of families in historically neglected neighborhoods?
“Over the last few years, we’ve watched some of the most important investments in our future including what used to be Opportunity Now shrink and move down to the Metro Action Commission, our workforce development programs shrink and move down to the Metro Action Commission, Nashville Grad have its budget reduced, which is there to help people who are struggling to have books and supplies as they pursue Nashville State. I’m going to create an office of opportunity that reinvigorates all these programs. These are the incentives of our future. I want to make sure that we have the network of future opportunities for every young person in this room and beyond.”
“When 80% of the kids graduating from metro Nashville Public Schools are not career, college, or military ready, we have failed. Our economic development strategy has failed because the children graduating from our schools are not able to compete for the maximum wage jobs coming here. We are a global city, and we have the opportunity to move from being an F rated school system to an A rated school system. Parents are telling us if we are not preparing their kids for the jobs of tomorrow, nothing else that we think we’re doing in this ribbon cutting work actually matters.”
8. Student question (Suzanna): Knowing that School Resource Officer removal is a district decision, what will you do as mayor to address the physical and emotional safety of young people?
“This is maybe the hardest question of the night in some ways, because we know that you all as students are experiencing trauma. We know that a lot of parents want school environments where there is parent comfort with the idea of School Resource Officers. it’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to roll back the idea altogether. I do think that Dr. Battle and School Board have made an important decision to delay implementation of SROs in elementary schools. We know from evidence-based practices around the country that more guns don’t mean more safety.”
“I applaud the work that the General Assembly did recently to pass what has been presented for the last three years by the Professional Educators of Tennessee, which is to fund a School Resource Officer in every school. That funding is now available, and it means that our Director of Schools and our School Board has no excuse not to take advantage of it. The second issue is having enough mental health beds. We only have right now in the entire state of Tennessee, 596 beds for residential mental health treatment. In this next legislative session, Chairman Cepicky will propose that Davidson County, every one of the 33 state senate districts will receive a plan to build a 150-person mental health treatment facility modeled after what’s in Maury County.”
9. Student question (Yusuf): I’ve been thinking a lot about what we as a city need, and in my mind, Nashville is like a Girl Scout. We’ve got our Girl Scout sash, and on our sash we’ve got a Music City badge, and we wear that proudly. And now we have this massive new Titan’s stadium that’s also a badge. But I do think there are also a lot of badges we are missing. My question is, what badge are you going to start working on first and why?
“The badge I want to earn is a simple one. It’s the Stay Badge. Because my hope is that we do the things when I am mayor that help you choose to stay in Nashville and want to choose to stay in Nashville.”
“The Girl Scout badge that I would like to earn is the one that I think is the most important is resetting our ability to pay for all of these things that we want to do.”
*Candidates are eligible to participate if they’ve qualified to appear on the August 3, 2023, municipal ballot and according to first quarter (March 31, 2023) financial disclosures have raised $100,000 of funds from sources other than themselves or their spouses by Friday, June 2, 2023. Candidates who entered the race following the first quarter date can confirm evidence of $100,000 in funds raised from external sources by notarized affidavit.
Khalil Ekulona has been involved with media for almost his entire life. Recently he served as the host and producer of No More Normal, the pandemic-focused radio show on KUNM in Albuquerque. He’s also served as the co-host of Good Day New Mexico on KOB4, and as a correspondent with New Mexico PBS. Born in New Jersey, raised in Maryland, Khalil received his degree in political science from Elon University (then Elon College). During his time in Los Angeles, Khalil worked as an educator for at-risk high school students and an associate producer for film, and he founded the hip-hop group Fresh Air.
Khalil loves to find humor and wisdom in life’s turns and corners and enjoys discovering the events that define our lives by talking to his fellow human beings and strives to learn from their experiences. He is also an avid fan of elevator music.
The Mayor’s Youth Council consists of high school students from public and private schools across Nashville and is sponsored by the Mayor’s Office. They seek to have one student from every high school in Nashville.