The Tallahassee Mayoral Fellowship Program provides graduate students with a year-long opportunity to work within City government and alongside City leadership. As I was selected for the 2018 class of Fellows, I was assigned to the Office of the Mayor, Andrew Gillum, to work alongside his staff in promoting and furthering key initiatives to advance the Capital City.
Local governments are on the front lines of their communities each and every day. This is why local governments usually have their own police force, parks and recreation department, fire department, public transportation, and many other public services and departments. Though local governments can have a direct influence on their cities, there is a large responsibility that they are entrusted with: keep their communities safe and thriving. However, this responsibility is not easily managed, as local communities endure many challenges.
Tallahassee, like other communities, faces these challenges every day. There have been strategic initiatives set forth by Mayor Gillum, and further developed by the City, to mitigate these challenges, while also making a positive impact on the community. I had had many educational experiences working in these initiatives, which include the Longest Table initiative, the Family First initiative, the Tallahassee Future Leaders Academy.
Since 2015, the Longest Table initiative has provided a platform for people of diverse backgrounds, religions, and races to share a meal, share their stories, and their experiences. The desired outcome of the Longest Table is ultimately for people to build relationships with other community members that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to connect with. At this time of heightened conflict, unrest, and the tragedies that come with division, communities are constantly seeking ways to build mutual understanding and vision. Through the Longest Table initiative, the City has been able to become more connected as a community and more united because of its diversity.
The Family First initiative has advanced the work of community organizations that are focused on better investments in children and families, and ultimately making the community a safe and nurturing environment for families and children to live and grow, since 2014. Through the Family First initiative, the City has been able to provide support for a local quality rating and improvement system for early education, a community-wide certification program for family friendly workplaces, and a service provider conference to enhance the system of care throughout the community.
Tallahassee Future Leaders Academy (TFLA) is a summer program that provides the City’s high school students with financial literacy education, workforce development training, and valuable mentorship and part-time employment throughout the community. TFLA has partnerships with FSU, as well as FAMU and TCC, to help expose these students to the opportunity of post-secondary education after high school graduation. This program helps deter crime and provides a beneficial and engaging alternative for high school students during the summer. This past June, Tallahassee was awarded the City Livability Outstanding Achievement Award by the U.S. Conference of Mayors for the success of the TFLA program.
Through the Tallahassee Mayoral Fellowship Program, I have been able to gain an internal look at the processes and efforts of local governments in abating the challenges their communities face each day. What I’ve learned in working in local government is that it requires dedicated public servants, working with their fellow community members to create innovate solutions for these challenges. As Mayor Gillum’s term comes to an end this year, I sincerely hope that the incoming mayor will continue the Tallahassee Mayoral Fellowship Program so future graduate students can contribute to and experience their local government’s endeavors for the betterment of their community.
Kirsten D’Souza is a graduate student in the Masters of Applied American Politics and Policy program in the Political Science Department. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Affairs from FSU.