The overarching theme of Albany City Councilor Alex Johnson II’s talk last Wednesday in the IEDI was one of community outreach. At the beginning of the meeting, Johnson, sporting his Councilor of Albany’s Ward 2 hat, announced, “This is your meeting, what would you guys like to talk about?”
Johnson was the fourth out of five speakers for LBCC’s Black History Month Speaker series. Johnson is Albany’s first black city councilman, and his talk at the IEDI approximated more of a Town Hall style meeting than a formal speech.
Johnson led the meeting as an opportunity to meet and hear from his constituents, as well as a chance to talk with them about the beneficial connections between LBCC and Albany. He talked about past successes of partnerships he has fostered with LBCC, and encouraged political involvement from the audience members. Also, at the end of the meeting, he announced that he was running for mayor.
Johnson’s talk was hardly political, despite Johnson being clearly willing and capable of discussing controversy. “I started a firestorm last night,” said Johnson, referring to a comment he made on social media criticizing President Trump’s decision to pardon a man convicted of selling a U.S. Senate seat.
But as Wednesday’s talk began, the discussion could not be farther from national politics. Johnson mentioned there’s a problem with feral cats in Albany. “What about feral turkeys?” Eric Bryant, LBCC Moodle Administrator asked, smiling. But Johnson was not kidding. After the talk was over, he mentioned that he has gotten 300 emails about the problem with feral cats in Albany.
One of Johnson’s strengths has been his ability to work on many different levels with his constituents. Johnson, who worked at HP before becoming an insurance broker for True Life Financial Solutions, was at one point tasked with hiring new folks for a more diverse department over at HP. As a veteran, he put up recruitment posters in military locations, and was able to hire people of color, and for women employees he turned to LBCC. 11 female technicians had graduated from the program at LBCC, and three years later not one of them had been hired. One of the women, Johnson recalled, had gone to 11 job interviews. All 11 of these technicians from LBCC’s program had great test scores and Johnson hired them all.
“I would like to hear from you what it was like running for city council,” said IEDI Program Assistant Heather Morijah, in answer to Johnson’s opening question.
Johnson replied that he was encouraged to get involved in city politics by his neighbor, who later retired and encouraged Johnson to run for his seat.
The town hall style discussion then meandered towards the importance of getting involved in local politics.
“I’m really interested in local politics,” said LB student Brionna North. “I think it’s a lot easier to help directly, with a group of less than a hundred at once, like he [Johnson] was talking about getting the lights fixed in two weeks.” Johnson had told of a situation where one of his constituents in Ward 2 had noticed quite a few streetlights were out. Johnson was able to call PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric), and using the book the constituent had made for him, located the specific lights and got them fixed, as well as many others Johnson had identified from driving up and down all the streets.
“I really liked hearing the process of how involved he was before becoming a councilman and then what he deals with now as a councilman,” said North. “I love hearing about him doing the town halls. I loved hearing about the invisible people, and about needing businesses to come here and create jobs. A lot of cool stuff, like wanting people to stay in Albany and create jobs and thinking about Albany as a community.”
Afterwards, both Johnson and IEDI Director Javier Cervantes gave encouragement and advice to North for how to get involved with politics.
“Every city has city advisory committees, that’s the best place to start,” said Johnson. “They have groups that advise the city council.”
The vibe was active in the room. The event was well-attended, with President Hamann in attendance as well as English Department hosts Tristan Striker and Dr. Ramycia McGhee, staff, students and community. After the event, several audience members buttonholed Johnson since audience members could get help they needed as constituents and talk about campus issues. Also, as a provider of medicare in his dayjob, Johnson is just good at talking to people.
Story by Karen Canan
Unity Celebration, Thursday Feb 27, 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Fireside Room, CC-211 “With literature, speeches and food, LBCC celebrates community diversity.”
“Think Outside the Classroom” Wednesday, March 4 from noon to 1 p.m. “Interdisciplinary panel of staff and students talk about the value of attending conferences in their field.” Food provided.
Latina Empowerment event, Monday, March 9 at 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. “Celebrate the contributions of Latina women with presentations and food.” All are welcome.