Autumn Butler is just getting started in Pontiac. For all the work she's put into building Pontiac Policy Council as its executive director, she's also a project manager for the affordable housing non-profit Venture, Inc., working on a Ph.D. in political science at Wayne State University, and is a mother to a seven-year-old.
The Pontiac Policy Council, cofounded by Butler and Tameka Ramsey, is on track to receive 501(c)(3) status this year. Butler and Ramsey's vision is to create a platform for advocating for the city while working to empower its residents to advocate for themselves.
"We want to help people organize themselves," says Butler. "It's important to get people engaged and get them to advocate for positive change."
In its first year, the Pontiac Policy Council
worked on earned paid sick time, a youth center millage, and re-districting, and especially how districting impacts communities of color. In its second year, Butler and company plan on a community survey that will knock on every door in Pontiac, asking each resident about community needs.
They plan on voter registration efforts and voter scorecards, enabling residents to keep track of where candidates stand on the issues as they head into the poll booths. Also planned is the Resident Leadership Academy, where Pontiac Policy Council will help teach people how to be advocates and organizers for change.
And then there's the Policy Council's Microenterprise Institute. Butler believes that one of the true agents of change is economic sustainability. Through this initiative, the Pontiac Policy Council wants to teach residents how to turn their side hustles into small businesses. With the right guidance, talents used for extra money, like braiding hair or lawn maintenance, can turn residents into employers rather than employees.
talked to Butler her about her passion for progress and the city of Pontiac.
Q: What do you love most about Pontiac?
What I love most about Pontiac are the people. It is a close-knit community, but once people know that you are genuine and authentic, they are so accepting. Pontiac residents are above all persevering, and despite the challenges and obstacles we face, Pontiac residents are hopeful and resilient.
Q: Why do you work for the betterment of Pontiac?
I stay involved in the City of Pontiac because I truly believe that by working in collaboration with other like-minded residents and allies that we can work to have a community that provides opportunities for our children and that we can have an increased quality of life.
I also firmly believe that Pontiac's success can provide a blueprint for other cities that have suffered from deindustrialization, "fend for yourself federalism", and disenfranchisement and a lack of self-determination due to policies that often do not have our community's best interest.
Q: What's a pressing challenge that Pontiac faces and how can it be addressed?
I think one of the biggest challenges that Pontiac faces is a lack of opportunity for our youth. Over the last 10 years as I've done community surveys, town halls, and planning charrettes, residents always say that the development of our youth is a critical priority.
What residents are saying is that they want their children to have access to a quality educational system, enrichment programs, and extracurricular activities that will help Pontiac youth reach their full potential and help guide them to dream BIG dreams and become successful adults.
I think one of the major ways that this issue can be addressed is for elected officials, nonprofit organizations, faith-based institutions, residents, and activists to come together to develop youth programming that is innovative, creative, inclusive, effective, and efficient.
Pontiac residents recently passed a youth millage in November 2016, so the dollars are there that can become the foundation for dynamic youth programming. Residents need to be engaged so that they can ensure that these youth millage dollars are used to move Pontiac youth forward, and that there is accountability and transparency.
Q: What would you like to see happen in the city?
I would love to see a community where the residents are empowered so that they are becoming entrepreneurs and small business owners employing other Pontiac residents.
I would love to see Pontiac residents who are engaged and empowered in the political process on a large scale across the generations so that we have more residents moving into leadership positions, organizing for positive change, and holding elected officials and institutions accountable, so that we can begin to see holistic dynamic and sustainable positive impacts in the quality of life for all residents regardless of race, socio-economic status, ability, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
Q: What should people in Metro Detroit know about Pontiac?
Pontiac is a resilient city that is filled with people who want Pontiac to be successful. There is definitely a pride in Pontiac that you can hear when you speak to residents. As one of my Pontiac family members likes to say, "It's time to bring back the 'Yac."
Want to learn more and get involved? Visit Pontiac Policy Council online.
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