(Photo: Courtesy of Aja Brown for Mayor)
As anyone who’s listened to 1990s era gangsta rap knows, the city of Compton, California, has a history in the Black community. African-Americans began to move into the L.A.-adjacent city in the 1950s and 1960s, until eventually Compton became a locale famous for housing upwardly mobile middle-class Black families. That reputation fell into disrepair throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, as crack and gang violence tainted Compton’s reputation. But a recent election has signaled that the ambitious African-American community of Compton has not gone away, despite the fact that Compton itself has gone through quite a change.
Meet Aja Brown. Brown is the 31-year-old Black urban planner who was recently elected to be mayor of Compton, defeating the former two-term mayor Omar Bradley in a runoff election. Both Bradley and Brown had been running to defeat incumbent Eric Perrodin. Though she is a newcomer to politics, Brown was a welcome antidote to Bradley, who the Los Angeles Times reports has been saddled with shady troubles for years: “After losing office in 2001 to Perrodin, Bradley was convicted in 2004 of misappropriating about $7,500 in public funds. An appeals court reversed the conviction last year but left the door open for prosecutors to retry him, which they have been preparing to do.”
Now that she’s in office, Brown says it’s time to move on from the past. “I believe the people of Compton are ready for change,” she said at her victory party. “They've spoken. Their voice has clearly been heard that they don't want to go backward.”
One of the largest changes that Compton is going through — and what Brown is going to have to confront — is a major shift in demographics. While Compton was once a majority Black enclave, it’s now about two-thirds Latino. Despite this transformation, this year is the first year a Latino has been elected to Compton’s city council, and a Latino has never been mayor. In fact, Latinos make up a minority of Compton’s eligible voters.
A problem that still persists in America is that African-Americans make up a significant portion of the population but a paltry portion of the governmental roles that wield real power. As the U.S. grows even more diverse than it is already, and our power dynamics shift, it’s not crazy to suspect that there will eventually be more cases like Brown’s: an African-American suddenly thrust into office to preside over a Latino community the way white politicians have long presided over Black communities.
Brown’s is not an easy task, and being sure to take into account the needs of all her constituents will be one of her most important duties. Watching her accomplish that feat and others — and there’s currently nothing to say she won’t — will be exciting. And it will hopefully be a sign of good things to come in an ethnically transforming America.
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