Focus Policy Blog


Joint Center & Black Belt Mayors Tackle Challenges in the Rural South

Children incapable of completing homework and isolated from a world of ideas because their small town lacks broadband. Pools of raw sewage sitting in front yards due to insufficient sewage infrastructure. The elderly traveling hundreds of miles and waiting for hours in line for dialysis treatment several days each week. Too few jobs. A crippling inability to address these problems due to insufficient state assistance, an inadequate local tax base, and too few local resources to apply for federal grants.

Fifteen mayors and other officials from Alabama Black Belt towns shared these struggles and more at a March 4 symposium hosted by the Joint Center, Selma Mayor George Evans, and the Alabama Conference of Black Mayors.

The Joint Center’s objectives were to hear from the rural mayors about the most pressing challenges affecting their towns, to document these challenges on video and in writing, and to start to help working through some of these challenges.

During the sessions, key federal officials met with the mayors to discuss broadband, sewage infrastructure, water infrastructure, housing assistance, food assistance, workforce development, small business development, access to capital, and other solutions. Participating federal officials included:

  • Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL)
  • Congresswoman Karen Bass (CA)
  • USDA Rural Development Office of Alabama Community & Business Program Director Allen Bowen
  • U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Development Specialist Arthur Brooks
  • USDA Rural Development Office of Alabama Area Director Nivory Gordon
  • USDA Farm Service Agency of Alabama Public Affairs Specialist Cassondra Searight
  • Small Business Administration Alabama District Office Director Tom Todt
  • Environmental Protection Agency Region IV Administrator Heather McTeer Toney
  • USDA Farm Service Agency of Alabama Dallas/Lowndes Counties Executive Director Perry Woodruff
  • National Telecommunications & Information Administration Senior Communications Program Specialist Scott Woods

Discussions about equality often focus on yesterday’s civil rights struggles or today’s urban challenges, but often overlook unique issues that confront rural communities of color today. Over the next year, the Joint Center will work with the mayors, federal officials, foundations, and others to develop policy solutions to some of the challenges.
View photos from this event by clicking here.