Compton has an image problem and Aja Brown is on a mission to change it.
The 31-year-old mayor of the town just south of Los Angeles that has for so long been associated with gangs and violent crime hopes to convince people that Compton can be the new Brooklyn.
The New York City borough, Brown told Fusion’s Alicia Menendez, revitalized and was able to “shed its negative image.”
Through “strategic partnerships” and planning, Brown thinks Compton can do the same.
She acknowledged that the city has been plagued by gang violence, but said crime has dropped dramatically in recent years and that the town is “making huge strides” when it comes to safety.
But how does a relatively new official, the youngest mayor the town has ever elected, change people’s perception of a city they think they know?
“I think we definitely have to address social media,” Brown said. “Pop culture has a huge impact on what people believe to be true.”
The urban planning expert is also trying to separate fact and fiction when it comes to her personal story.
Brown, who was born in Compton but raised in a quieter suburb north of Los Angeles, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Southern California. Critics have cast her as an outsider incapable of understanding what the town needs.
“Everyone wants the same things,” she said, citing education, safety, fresh food and healthcare, regardless of where they live. “That’s how I’m able to relate to my community.”
Married for about 10 years with no children, Brown is also grappling with the additional challenges of being a woman in a position of power.
“I think that women, in any form of leadership, are always questioned, sometimes undermined,” she said, “and we’re also, I think, unfairly addressed in terms of life choices.”
Brown didn’t intend to be a politician when she was in school. But she decided to run after attempts to convince others to tackle some of the city’s problems – like Compton’s persistent negative image – didn’t pan out.
“I just aspire to be the best public servant that I can be,” she said, adding that she plans to serve two terms “if all goes well.”
Observers have compared the young Brown to Cory Booker, former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, another image problem-plagued city, and current senator. While Brown says she’s “inspired” by Booker, she doesn’t “wish to emulate anyone’s career in particular.”
Regardless of whether Brown is emulating someone or forging her own path, as Menendez said, she’s one to keep “an eye on” moving forward.