Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Darrio Melton: Victim bashing is not a solution to Alabama's budget woes

  While national and local leaders have condemned Gov. Robert Bentley's decision to close DMV offices around the state, Rep. Mike Ball has taken this opportunity to throw a punch at my community this week, claiming that we've "got some people who just wallow in being a victim," and that those people "enjoy being a victim" and "want everyone else to do everything for them."

  Now Representative Ball did say that he's met plenty of "innocent victims" in his law enforcement career and throughout his work in the legislature - people who are looking for solutions and just need a little guidance. But those of us in the Black Belt? We're just being difficult... or at least that's the story they want to tell.

  Let's not forget that the Black Belt has persevered with a passion for our communities that is unparalleled in this state, despite being given every opportunity to fail. We have produced fearless trailblazers, timeless authors, iconic visionaries, brave military leaders and even a United States Vice President. And we could do and be so much more with a hand up--not a hand out--from our state leaders like you, Representative Ball.

  Because when the state starts looking at an interstate project, there's no doubt that we'll complete I-22 through Northwest Alabama and I-465 through Northeast Alabama, before I-85 ever gets a shot at running through Selma to drive commerce through the heart of the Black Belt.

  And without a major interstate running through, new jobs projects look to North Alabama regardless of how hard the Democrats work to bring those jobs here to Dallas, Wilcox and Perry Counties.

  And without more better-paying jobs, it's hard to discuss ending the cycle of poverty in rural areas by improving Alabama's education or workforce development, or agricultural programs or literally any other program. When those conversations start, the Black Belt is almost always left out of the discussion.

  I've written extensively about what I think we can do to improve access to necessary programs and grow the economy in the Black Belt, but those ideas fall on deaf ears in Montgomery. The people here don't see themselves as victims, and we don't want you to see us that way either. We just want you to know that we expect our state leaders to stand up for a better Alabama for the people in every region, not just in Huntsville or in Birmingham, or in Gadsden or in Mobile.  While we don't seem big and important to the Montgomery politicians, even Dr. Seuss knows a person's a person know matter how small.

  While you're accusing us of playing the victim, remember how far we've come. Remember that there are people still in Selma today who were beaten bloody on the bridge fifty years ago just for the right to vote. We still have residents who remember the painful system of oppression that still weighs on our community every day, whether it's something broad and systemic like education or simply in the way the governor turns his nose up about access to DMVs. And while none of our current legislators are responsible for those horrible Jim Crow scars in our past, we are responsible for doing everything within our power to redeem ourselves from our past and build a stronger future for years to come.

  We're ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work to build a better Alabama, and I would encourage anyone who doubts it to come visit and let me show you around so you can meet the people who call this their home.

  About the author: Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus: Darriomelton.com.

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