Growing up, King Walker, a high school senior from Bankhead, knew about presidential elections, but he knew little, if anything, about local elections.
“Nobody taught me really about voting and democracy,” the Booker T. Washington High School student told Atlanta Civic Circle. “I just knew that the presidential election was big, but the rest of the elections I really didn’t think mattered that much.”
That’s no longer the case.
Walker, who celebrated his 18th birthday Oct. 12, just finished participating in a unique Atlanta Public School initiative called Democracy Class Atlanta, which introduced 2,000 APS high school students to the fundamentals of democracy and how government works.
He was one of 10 APS students tapped to serve on the Student Advisory Council for the program. (He volunteered for the council after hearing a get-out-the-vote presentation by Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Steven Means.)
King is now registered to vote and plans to do so for the first time next month. Thanks to the class, he said he has a better sense of what to look for in a candidate, so when he was asked to be on a six-student panel for APS’s recent mayoral forum, he came prepared.
He asked three of the race’s top candidates — Atlanta City Council members Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens and attorney Sharon Gay — their plans for creating better and safer entrepreneurial opportunities for young people, especially those selling bottles of water in Atlanta traffic.
More than 2,000 APS high school students participated in Democracy Class Atlanta. If the pilot program proves successful, it could make learning about democracy part of school curriculums nationwide.
“It’s an important topic, especially right now in our current society,” Selena Florence, APS assistant superintendent over teaching and learning previously told Atlanta Civic Circle. “We want to make sure students are informed and that we are doing our part as a system and throughout this partnership to make sure our students are engaging in the democratic process. We’re preparing them for actual voting when it’s their time.”
Atlanta Civic Circle caught up with Walker, an outside linebacker for his high school football team, the Bulldogs, the day before the school’s homecoming game.
Walker talked about the democracy class, mayoral candidates and the possibility of a political career in the future. Here is that conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
Tammy Joyner: What do you know about democracy that you didn’t know before?
King Walker: Local elections matter. I used to think that just the presidential election matters, but it really matters who you put in congress, who your councilmembers are. Those are the people who are going to go to the legislative building and represent you. They also taught us how the government gives people voting rights but, bit by bit, takes them back.
What else did you learn?
How to fundraise. How to connect with others. They’re important skills for us to have in the future.
You asked the mayoral candidates about how they would create a better entrepreneurial experience for kids, especially those selling bottled water in Atlanta’s busy and dangerous traffic. Who gave the best answer?
Antonio Brown. He talked about how he used to do stuff like that and how he would open up programs to show kids after school and in the summer how they can be better businessmen and how they can have more business ideas.
Are you planning to vote in the municipal elections next month?
Did the candidates forum give you better insight into the mayoral candidates who participated? Do you have an idea of who you might vote for?
It’s between Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown.
What was it about those two candidates that you liked?
They have a good plan for students and the next generation coming up.
Former Mayor Kasim Reed and other candidates were invited to participate in the APS candidates forum but did not attend. What are your thoughts about that?
They said they had a scheduling conflict, but I feel like people make time for what’s important to them. They didn’t feel like a student council forum was important, so they didn’t make time for it.
What will you be looking for in a candidate in the future?
Honesty is a big one. Their vision or plan about how they’re going to help the youth. The economy and how they’re going to have a big impact on the city. How they’ll decrease crime. You know the crime rate has increased in Atlanta. That was a big thing the [mayoral] candidates talked about — how they’re going to decrease the crime rate.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from participating in the Democracy Class Atlanta program, the student advisor committee or the mayoral candidates forum?
A lot of people think their vote is one vote and it won’t matter. But if they vote, it actually can make a difference. So one thing I can say I learned is to let your voice be heard.
What do you want to do after you graduate?
I want to go to college. I want to play football. I think I want to major in sports management or computer science.
Would you ever run for office?
Yes, ma’am. [The Democracy Class Atlanta program] gave me a better outlook on how I can help the community and how I can help the next generation coming up. I play football but football’s not going to last forever. If the skills I learned through football can impact the next generation then that really has a big impact.
What office would you seek?
I’d work my way from city council all the way up to as far as I can go.
For more on young voters, read ACC reporter Hannah Jones’s story here.