Tucker, GA — Imani Barnes, 39, is an Emory University research scientist, a community educator and PhD candidate in public health. She is also running for Tucker City Council, District 2, Seat 1, which is currently occupied by Matt Robbins.
The single mom of a 10-year-old boy, Barnes has lived in Tucker for four years. She grew up in DeKalb County, graduated from Druid Hills High School, played soccer on a full scholarship at South Carolina State University and returned to the area after graduating with a degree in biology and chemistry.
In 2019, Barnes created I Can Become Anything, a team development business in which she works with teens who “need a push of inspiration or development in real-world activities,” like job searching and conflict management.
Barnes is running on two major issues: equity in representation and equity in housing.
“Working within the community, I feel like we are blind to what really implements change, which is our local government,” said Barnes. “Teaching [teens] what to do, or not to do, when getting pulled over or how to handle conflict management made me look deeper into what my City Council does for minorities … and around current events.”
After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, Barnes began to regularly attend Tucker City Council meetings. Researching the city’s demographics, she learned the United States Census reported in 2019 Tucker’s population was 37% Black.
The realization that Black, immigrant and LGBTQ communities lack representation in city government compelled her to run for City Council.
“We have a more diverse population that wants to see equity and diversity,” said Barnes. “One of my big issues is pushing the Non-Discrimination Ordinance in Tucker because of the large LGBTQ population in this community that deserves equal rights in the workplace, equal rights in shopping centers, equal rights period. And we need someone on Tucker City Council who will at least acknowledge the people who have concerns.”
But isn’t Tucker always compared to Mayberry? Barnes says yes, but that’s not a good thing.
“When I go downtown, I don’t feel comfortable sometimes because I don’t see a lot of diversity in people or businesses. I want to change that. I want the whole community to come out. Although we have 37% Black population, I can’t tell you where they are,” she said.
During the summer of 2020 tension was high in Tucker. Protestors were fighting for the right to gather, and the city was indifferent, Barnes claims.
“Everyone was protesting for Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, we had to go through loopholes to even try to have anything in Tucker. Just a peaceful protest, or a rally. They knocked us down so many times,” she said.
When asked if she thought the lack of support from City Council was due to the COVID-19 pandemic or race relations, Barnes said, “I believe it was due to race relations in Tucker. I’ve gone to City Council meetings around when George Floyd was murdered and Mayor [Frank] Auman wasn’t trying to hear any concerns from people of color. It was pretty much, ‘You have two minutes to talk. Next person.’”
If Barnes is elected to City Council, she plans to encourage a more diverse crowd to attend city meetings. Tucker has a younger population that needs a voice, she said.
Homelessness and fair housing is top of mind for Barnes, who said the boom in residential and commercial development is linked to the city’s recent urban camping ordinance.
Barnes’ take is that citizens are not complaining about people experiencing homelessness.
“It’s the government officials that are complaining because our homeless population is on the storefronts, and I think they’re trying to clean up the city. But the urban camping ordinance is not what I support,” said Barnes.
“There are other ways to mitigate the homeless situation in Tucker, and I don’t feel like we explored those options. I feel like the City Council voted yes on the urban camping ordinance without getting advice from citizens. We have all kinds of people in Tucker that could have put their heads together for a better solution, like Emory doctors and CDC researchers,” said Barnes.
The election for Mayor and three councilmembers will take place on Nov. 2. Candidates must qualify during the week of Aug. 16 at Tucker City Hall. Open seats on November’s ballot include: District 1, Post 1, currently Pat Soltys; District 1, Post 2, currently vacant; District 2, Post 1, currently Matt Robbins; and District 3, Post 1, currently Michelle Penkava. According to Tucker communications staff, no councilmembers have confirmed a run in the fall.
About her candidacy, Barnes said, “I’m ready for it. I’m excited. I’m a community advocate, so I’m big on community. If this gets the word out to the community so we can improve the quality of life for the citizens of Tucker, then I’m all for it.”
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