Council Member Dwight Boykins -- Businessman and Life-Long Resident of District D
By: Mustafa Tameez
(link to article)
January 20, 2014 -- Houston’s District D is something of an anomaly. Running through a significant chunk of the city’s southern quadrant, it contains the mansions of the Houston Museum District and Texas Medical Center and the poverty stricken neighborhoods of the south side. Both gritty and gleaming, this historically African American district was ground zero for a number of hotly contested political races due to its stronger than average voter turn-out this last November. While other city council seats were no less passionately fought over, it was here that 12 candidates slugged through the campaign season. In the end it came down to two candidates in a run-off election to replace term limited Councilwoman Wanda Adams, and on December 14, the voters elected Mr. Dwight Boykins as their new Houston City Council Member.
Boykins’ roots in District D are long and extend to many of the local businesses and institutions he counts among his clients at his consulting firm. Among them is his alma mater, Texas Southern University where he earned a degree from the Jesse H. Jones School of Business. It is a businessman’s eye and a consultant’s perspective that will help Boykins navigate some of the issues facing District D.
I asked him if he felt uniquely suited to tackle some of the problems that will need business and local government to work together.
“Absolutely. I believe that an excellent working relationship with the City government and the private sector creates a great economy and a great recruiting mechanism for future companies to come to Houston.”
In District D, crime, poverty, lack of resources and infrastructure surround rapidly improving neighborhoods humming with new business and community pride. Take for instance the resurgence in and around Texas Southern University. The streets are wide, clean, and lined with ethnic restaurants and parks. But travel further across the District and you see urban blight in areas that haven’t benefited from the same renewed attention to inner-loop neighborhoods.
This becomes one of the defining challenges for anyone seeking to represent the District – how can you work to bring security, prosperity, and investment to all parts of the district? How can you best help everyday people and communities struggling in the face of pretty enormous challenges to thrive again?
From the out-set Boykins will be using his office to increase the presence of the District D offices. He gave up roughly 66 percent of his salary to hire additional staff to address immediate needs of the district. He will be putting that allotted money into opening four new district area offices. For staffers he plans to use retired volunteer seniors from the community. This represents the type of community collaboration that he thinks can help increase service delivery to district residents.
Boykins, jovial and polished, sat down with me to talk about his plans for the district and how he sees the role of a Council Member in shaping the future of the community.
The prevailing issues of crime and poverty are intimately intertwined and, theoretically, addressing one ought to help alleviate the other. Council Member Boykins sees an important role for the City’s Public Works department in offering job training and a potential source of employment for individuals struggling to find work.
“I’m certain about this – we have to reconstruct the City’s streets over the next 23 years and my question is this, “Who’s going to be doing that work?” So we have to bridge the gap with the Houston contractors. And they are wide open to the idea of bringing in new talent, because that’s going to provide a lot of work for the next 20 some plus years. And now you’re returning economic resources to the community.”
Drawing together a program that would provide advanced vocational training to individuals without higher education or whose backgrounds would otherwise be problematic, falls under the rubric of what Boykins refers to as his Second Chance Program.
“If you dropped out of high school, or if you finished high school and can’t find a good job, or if you made a mistake in your past– non-violent felonies – and have paid your debt to society, giving those people a second chance means crime goes down, self-esteem goes up and economics return to your community.”
With a vision of what an involved municipal presence could do for struggling citizens, Boykins would like to be able to leverage more resources and support for better education in District D. Citing the greater relationships between school districts and municipalities in the North and Midwest, he feels a renewed focus on high quality junior college and vocational training would do a lot to elevate people into the middle class. But what would make the biggest difference would be to bring that focus on skill and vocational training into the area I.S.D.s where students can begin training while still in junior and secondary school.
“Not everybody’s going to college and we know that, so preparing them for jobs early is important. Because we have a lot of work; the Port expansion, Rebuild Houston, and other Capital Improvement Projects, it’s going to be important for us to have a trained workforce.”
But there is one group in particular that needs access to assistance with employment and career resources – ex-offenders. Everyday hundreds if not thousands of people are released back onto the streets of Houston from incarceration, and for most finding even basic work is nearly impossible. Once a person is released from legal custody the uphill battle to re-establish (or in some cases start) a legitimate life begins. No matter what an individual’s stance on non-violent ex-offenders the fact is, when they’re released, they need an opportunity to work. According to Boykins the need to rehabilitate those people is part of the larger process of bringing jobs and economic progress to District D.
Among the most vulnerable groups of the district Boykins has a particular concern for senior citizens. I asked him what he would like to accomplish the most in his first 90 days in office.
He immediately replied, “To get my seniors program up and running. It’s a program where we will be able to help our seniors with minor home repairs at zero cost. This is run through a private initiative that has nothing to do with government. It will help people that need $200-$300 home repairs that are on a fixed income so I can’t wait to roll that out.”
I pressed him to share a little more about the funding and how the program might work.
“We’re going to have a golf tournament. We’re encouraging the private sector to get involved. I’ve already gotten some commitments and we have meetings with Home Depot and Lowes about selling products at cost. So the concept is this, we will raise private dollars, have a private board – and I will have no position on that board – then identify local contractors in the community who are willing to go out at a minimum and do these repairs, who would work with volunteers to assess what some of these repairs are, then go back to the board [for approval] and hopefully get those repairs done within a week.”
In fact, the idea of a senior’s home repair program and help for ex-offenders resurfaced again when I asked him to project out and think about what he would like to see as his legacy.
“Two-fold. One the seniors program so that the senior citizens will feel like attention has been drawn to them. We need a clear focus and direction towards identifying their needs. That’s important. I also want someone who had nothing when they started to be able to come up to me in 6 or 7 years and say ‘I now have a home, I now have a car’ those are things I want to accomplish.”