In just over a month, on March 17th, Champaign County and the rest of the State of Illinois will have their primary election. Though the Presidential election is obviously important to focus on, it’s equally pressing to consider our options at the local level. If you’re not one that pays attention to politics in general, you probably have a tendency to overlook these races until there are a bunch of names on a ballot, some of which you might recognize from yard signs. I was once this person. We don’t want you to be that person, so we’ll spend the next couple of weeks highlighting a few of the races that you should be paying attention to. Smile Politely does not do endorsements, so it’s up to you to sort out who you feel should represent you in these county level offices.
DeShawn Williams is a Democrat running against incumbent Charles Young for County Board District 6.
Smile Politely: For readers who have no concept of what the County Board is responsible for, can you give me a quick rundown, in your words? What do voters need to know?
DeShawn Williams: The County Board is responsible for multiple tasks within the community, but unless you're on the board it can be difficult to wrap your head around it all. The board is ultimately responsible for the county finances. Which we have seen in the past the importance of the decisions made and how it directly affects the communities we live in, especially when we are considering putting more money into hindering and holding captive, than helping exercise mental development and growth. But also justice & social services, policy, personnel & appointments, facilities, environment, and land use, as well as highway transportation. There are multiple responsibilities that the board has but to simplify it all the board is responsible for the county and how the money is spent while also overseeing the positions and duties listed above.
SP: Why did you decide to run for the County board?
Williams: I often speak of my children when talking to the people within my community. This is because as I mentioned before, decisions that are made directly affect not only my family but the families within our district. Last year we had our highest rate of shootings within the last five years and a significant portion of those events happened right in District 6. I have taken it upon myself to be one of many voices within our community that looks like the minority but is not afraid to fight and make decisions with the majority. My constituents need to know who represents them and what the board can do for the betterment of our community, and right now that is something that is missing. I want to make the county board real to the people within the district. I want them to know we are in this together. My priority is to ensure that individuals who find themselves fighting against the grain, have a fair opportunity at the success of life. I want to focus on funding and building programs to create self-development opportunities, not jails.
SP: What do you feel are the top 2-3 issues facing the county board right now?
Williams: As an elected official my priorities will be my constituents' priorities. As I've been knocking doors and speaking with the residents, a common theme has been the fact that they had no idea what the county board did and more importantly who represented them. A part of my plan is to make the county board real to the communities within our district. In general, people aren't aware of what the county board does. But more specifically, a lot of the shootings that have taken place have taken place in our district and for obvious reasons, these issues have our district's attention. My plan is to find a way to create a transitional program that will teach the basics of financial literacy and personal development in the transition of former inmates or individuals struggling to lift themselves from poverty. The know-how of relatively basic skills that may otherwise go unknown can make a difference in the lives of someone who is barely able to survive.
SP: The current primary races have been contentious, to say the least, and there's a history of tension and infighting within the board. If you receive the nomination and are elected to the board, what steps will you take to mitigate the current tensions while working to advance your vision?
Williams: The first thing that I feel is necessary is for people to understand that we are all fighting for a common goal (or at least we should be). However, I have learned that there are individuals with a self-motivated agenda. Those are the individuals that seem to want to fight against people who aren't afraid to call them out on their wrongdoing. Again, my reasoning for running is to ensure that my children and individuals who are coming behind me have an opportunity presented to them that they may not have had otherwise. The moment we remove the petty desire of revenge or anger towards our colleagues rather its from the chair or other members, that is the moment we will see greatness achieved. We will not always agree but at the end of every agenda needs to be a solution that benefits the people within our district that we have been elected to govern. One of the first and easiest things we can do to ensure this is happening is to actually show up and be active in meetings in the first place. For my part in running and representing my district, I will actually show up and attend caucus. I will be active and present for meetings. I can promise that I will never pretend to know more or be more than I am. I will not make decisions I am uneducated on, and I will always devote time to learning and listening. As we've seen, that's not done enough and we have great caucus members who are well educated in many fields who can help each other if the opportunity presented itself. We need unification to ensure that we are at our best and that starts at the top.
SP: What makes you most qualified to be the Democratic nominee?
Williams: Not only am I raising my family in District 6, but I am also a young progressive candidate who is actively involved in community development. I am a board member for local arts council 40 North (which presents Friday Night Live and the Ace Awards, among other things), I've also been on the board for Urbana's Independent Media Center (IMC). I am a planning committee member for the Money Smart Week, financial literacy development which is a product of the University of Illinois Extension. I've been a part of community development groups such as Dapper University (which focused on at-risk youth development) as well as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) while managing a bank in Decatur. I am current an Assistant Vice President for Busey Bank right here in Champaign. I have also had the opportunity to mentor at the READY Program, which focuses on students who struggled in traditional school settings. My day to day job is to assist in developing people and helping them achieve goals that they may not have known were possible. Financial literacy, personal and professional development are areas that are close to my heart. So what makes me qualified, is the fact that you don't have to wait for me to become elected for me to be involved...I'm already here and I am productive and active in ensuring my community growth and development. This is happening yesterday, and today...not just tomorrow.
Top photo provided by DeShawn Williams.