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Kiwan Lawson Pushes Accountability in City Council Campaign

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Kiwan Lawson Pushes Accountability in City Council CampaignPhoto by Jesse Bethea.
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It was while Columbus native Kiwan Lawson was attending Marion-Franklin High School that he started to notice things that would push him toward the study of social justice and economic inequality. Lawson said after coming from Glendening Elementary School in the Groveport-Madison school district, with its superior computers, teachers and lunches, Lawson could notice things were different in his new high school.

“I brought home a book that my mom had,” said Laweson. “I’m like, why is it that my mom’s got the same book? People with afros and knee-high, striped socks? So I just realized then that this wasn’t equitable. This wasn’t the kind of quality education that I needed to succeed.”

While attending Indiana University Bloomington, the track and field champion researched the intersections between race, class, education and public disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Upon returning to Columbus, Lawson’s friends and relatives urged him to get involved with city politics. Lawson originally petitioned for mayoral candidacy, but eventually decided to run for City Council as a Democrat.

“Ultimately I just want to see my city become better,” said Lawson. “Downtown is great but let’s take a trip down to the South Side of town, let’s go out west, the Far East Side, let’s look at our recreational centers and spaces. Those are things that Council has a hold on.”

Though he acknowledged that Council is limited in its influence over the city School Board, Lawson said education would be his top priority if he is elected.

“We cannot have an honest discussion about anything unless we put education at the forefront,” said Lawson. “Education is where the magic happens. That’s where kids become who they are.”

Lawson also suggested that schools could be an environment where relationships between citizens and the police are eased if resource officers are called upon to engage more with students.

“They’re not there just to moderate and to arrest our kids who may have a dispute in the school building,” said Lawson. “Let them be people. We don’t have to have these officers in their full getup and uniforms all the time. Kids are fearful of that, our parents are fearful of that.”

Lawson said he would like to see more kids get an education in the Downtown area where they can access more resources out of class and said he would have advocated for Columbus City Schools to keep Africentric Alternative School in its previous Downtown location. Lawson also said Council should expand mentoring and tutoring programs, utilize public spaces for after school programs and that council members should be more present in the city schools.

“City Council, their mere presence means something. If Jay-Z came to town, even if he wasn’t performing, his mere presence means something,” said Lawson. “Let’s be present in our kids lives, not just when it’s time to come and take photo ops. Let’s put on a t-shirt and some sweatpants and let’s be human.”

Lawson said one trait he hopes to bring to city government with his campaign is accountability, and said this applies to both Columbus officials and residents.

“Accountability to me is a two-way street,” said Lawson. “If we’re going to hold you accountable, that means the community must be held accountable as well.”

Citizens must be held accountable for voting and for keeping or removing elected officials based on how well they represent the people, said Lawson, referring to voter participation as a “moral responsibility.”

“We can’t say, we don’t like what’s going, and then not show up at the booth,” said Lawson.

The candidate added that councilmembers must be held accountable for attending or not attending meetings with the public. Lawson said he thought more members of Council should have attended the recent meetings between community members and Columbus Division of Police Chief Kim Jacobs. Council should have been present at every single meeting, said Lawson, to show Jacobs their support during the tense community discussions.

“I would have attended as many meetings as I possibly could to let the Chief know that as an African-American, as a black councilperson in this city who knows what it’s like to be discriminated against in some regard, I’m here to help ease that tension,” said Lawson. “I may not agree with everything you’re saying, I may not agree with everything our citizens are saying, but I want to help be a mediator, help build that bridge to ease that tension and together we can work together to have a better city.”

Having studied public health at Indiana, Lawson has been carefully considering Franklin County’s shockingly high infant mortality rate. Lawson said the problem is one of environment and education, and that local governments must address the social and economic issues that contribute to the crisis. Lawson also said the city should consider urging the state to take additional action. Regardless of the ideological and political differences between state and city officials, said Lawson, “there are some common principles that we can address to protect human beings and children who cannot protect or defend themselves.”

Lawson is running without the official endorsement of the Franklin County Democratic Party and is part of a crowded field of certified candidates in the May 5 primary race.

“I can’t apologize for wanting to do well by the city,” said Lawson. “This is a city that helped me become who I am today. It blessed me with opportunities that not many others had an opportunity to take advantage of.”

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