In her run to sit on the other side of the City Council dais she’s often stood before, Nikuyah Walker won’t be touting Charlottesville as a world-class city. Instead, her theme of “unmasking the reality” acknowledges the duality of a town that draws the wealthy and well-educated, yet is unaffordable for many of its citizens, some of whom are on a “birth-to-prison pipeline.”
At her March 14 announcement at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Walker said she’d been urged to run for City Council by the late and revered former vice-mayor Holly Edwards.
Walker, a social justice activist who works for Charlottesville Parks & Rec, is running as an independent, a tough route in the Dem-heavy city. “For me, being an independent sets a clear tone to the establishment of Charlottesville that we need to change things,” she said.
She called for transparency, accountability in how city funds are spent, affordable housing and changes in the resource-rich community where, for many African-Americans, “You are on the way to the prison system the day you are born,” she said. “That’s not the story we want to hear.”
Walker said she would not shy away from talking about race, and that her family had likely been in Charlottesville during the Civil War, when blacks were the majority. Now African-Americans make up 19 percent of the population. ”Where have they gone?” she asked.
She invoked Edwards again when she vowed to promote the mental and physical health of those who experienced “negative health outcomes due to poverty.”
Former mayor Dave Norris, who is a founder of Equity and Progress in Charlottesville, said Walker is a good candidate because “she’s a seasoned advocate. She knows how local government works.” He also pointed out that Walker, unlike the current councilors, is a native “with roots in the community that run deep.”
Two seats are open on City Council in November, and Councilor Kristin Szakos said she will not run again. Councilor Bob Fenwick has been collecting signatures, but has not announced his plans. If he runs, he’ll face two Democratic candidates—Heather Danforth Hill and Amy Laufer—in the June 13 primary.
Correction 9:09am to add Heather Hill’s full name.