Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Keeping it real for mayoral forum

Inside Providence United Methodist Church, Alice Bennett lays out the mission of Thursday's "We Are the Candidate" mayoral forum.

The forum is an opportunity for councilmen John Lassiter (Republican) and Democrat Anthony Foxx to hear from real people who are dealing with joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness. The goal is to get the candidates to commit to an agenda for workforce development, home foreclosure prevention and critical home repair in neighborhoods.

The people the candidates will hear from completed various job training programs, but still can't find employment. Or they live in crumbling homes and deteriorating neighborhoods, and can't afford better living conditions. They are barely getting by in a city still reeling from the recession.

The challenge at a recent prep session for the forum, expected to draw 600 people, was finding individuals willing to share their stories. Bennett works with Helping Empower Local People, a grassroots group, which organized the forum with area churches. She wants Lassiter and Foxx to hear from people who are suffering and need more than campaign slogans to feel reassured. The need for authenticity from the candidates and the participants is why Bennett begged volunteers to help her find speakers.

Finding those voices has been tough. People don’t want to share their stories of how they've lost their job and are living with relatives or in a shelter, she said. They don't want to talk about how they can’t afford to make home repairs. People are prideful, but she hopes a courageous few will step up. No one can tell their story of pain like the person living it, she said.

Volunteers at the prep session know the pain all too well. They see it in the eyes of some church members and people in their communities. They hope the candidates will be moved by the stories to offer real solutions.

"It's really important for the candidates to be genuine, be real and talk on a personal level," said Katie Sloan of First United Presbyterian. "Real people need real answers."

Want to go?
What: "We are the Candidate" forum.
When: 7-8:30 p.m. today.10/22 .
Where: Providence United Methodist Church, 2810 Providence Road.