Carl E. Brown is running for a seat on the Charlottesville City Council because “it’s all about people.”
Brown, a born and bred Charlottesville resident and management consultant with a history of working in nonprofits, wants to see a greater emphasis on tangible solutions to help residents of the city.
“I think there’s this perception that we’ve lost the basic understanding of people first,” said Brown, 53. “We need to be able to connect the people with the services and connect with people who can help us move forward in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish as a city and meet the city’s goals, but it needs to start with just respect and mutual understanding.”
Brown, a Democrat, said that while he’s contributed to a lot of conversations about issues that are currently being discussed in the city, he feels his work has flown under the radar in some regards.
“I’ve been at the table about affordable housing and housing issues. I’ve been at the table about the criminal justice system. I’ve been at the table for many of these conversations, I’ve just come from a different angle and I haven’t been in the spotlight because I don’t work in that realm,” Brown said.
“But I’ve been at the table, I’m familiar with most of the players in the city. If you ask what is my greatest asset, it’s my ability to connect and build relationships.”
Brown attended Charlottesville public schools and is passionate about working with youth. In 1999, he and a friend started the Charlottesville-Albemarle Youth Club, a group that uses basketball to teach young people to maximize their potential.
He started a program called Be Real, which aimed to teach students how to believe in themselves and develop so they can achieve their goals. Brown said there are more than 150 adult graduates of the program who went on to earn college degrees ranging from bachelor’s to Ph.D.s, and that alumni of the program include a couple professional athletes, as well.
“We were able to provide individuals with an opportunity for an opportunity,” he said.
Brown took this mentality into his work with incarcerated people at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he adopted the Be Real program for the inmate population.
He became passionate about helping inmates to re-enter society successfully. This gave him the opportunity to work with organizations like The Fountain Fund, which aims to improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated through lending, financial education and community support. The organization provides low-interest loans to clients who have reliable future income.
“I was able to work with over 100 people and have seen some success,” he said.
Brown wants to use his background in working with inmates to help the City Council make more concrete efforts toward criminal justice reform.
“I don’t know how much City Council really knows about criminal justice reform. I think it’s a hot topic. Oftentimes, we want to create initiatives for the sake of it,” Brown said.
“When we’re talking about criminal justice reform, we need to do a better job with our programming. I think consolidation [of programs] is going to be essential for a re-entry program to thrive because one of the major barriers for that population is not that we have a bunch of resources, but the fact that it is so hard to get one of those resources.”
Brown said he would like to see councilors work together with other groups to make these programs more accessible and streamlined so that it is easier for formerly incarcerated people to access needed resources. He also said it’s important to have these conversations with people who already have experienced this process.
Brown also wants to see more concrete action taken by the council when it comes to providing affordable housing.
“When [current City Council members] were elected, that was something high on a lot of people’s agendas. In terms of movement, I haven’t seen a lot of that,” he said.
“We need to bring those individuals who can help with the issue, solve the issue. We can’t just go off of what we think. We need to be inclusive,” he said.
Brown said it’s important to him to have all types of people advising the City Council when discussing these issues.
“When I say ‘inclusion,’ I’m not talking about color, not about race,” Brown said. “We need to utilize our resources in this community and talk to the individuals who are doing things and working on these issues and have those conversations where everybody’s at the table.”
“I represent Charlottesville,” Brown said. “I think right now there’s a disconnect in terms of who’s representing us and how we’re represented … The people of Charlottesville will the ones who change Charlottesville, not the changes and policy we see in the boardroom.”
The seats of Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill are up this year. Walker, who won her first term as an independent, said in February 2020 that she will seek a second term but has not made any public announcements about her intentions since then. Hill, a Democrat, recently announced that she will not be seeking re-election.
In addition to Brown, Brian Pinkston and Juandiego Wade are seeking one of two Democratic nominations. Joshua Carp was running as a Democrat but recently withdrew from the race. Yasmine Washington failed to qualify for the Democratic primary and has since said she is running as an independent.