Citizens of Byram could elect first Black woman Alderman-At-Large

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Roshunda Harris Allen

Fourteen hours away, past Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, is Detroit, Michigan. Roshunda Harris-Allen – the democratic candidate for the City of Byram’s Alderman-At-Large – moved from there in 1998 to attend Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, MS. Her grandmother is originally from Mississippi, and her cousin, Samuel Jefferson, was JSU’s Director of Sports Information during the time she attended. “With my mother knowing that, she was like, ‘Oh, well, I already know where you’re going because you have a cousin that works in Higher Ed [who] can be there for you with you being so far away from home,” say Allen. Since then, Allen has earned four degrees – a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, a Master’s in Early Childhood Education, a Specialist Certificate in Infant and Toddler Development, and a Doctorate in Education.

On top of that list of accomplishments, Allen is currently an Associate Professor of Child Development and Director of Special Programs at Tougaloo College. She’s a grantee for the Institute for the Study of Modern-Day Slavery and a student advisor for the Harriet Tubman Project, which are both housed on the campus. Before that, she’s held positions at her alma mater – Jackson State – Hinds County Human Resource Agency, Jackson Public Schools, and various professional organizations.

After more than twenty years in the state of Mississippi, it’s quite easy to ascertain that her dedication and love is tied to the City of Byram, Mississippi where she has resided for almost 18 years with her husband, Dorian Allen, and their four children – De’Andre, Dorian, Donovan, and Dalis.

Jackson Advocate: How did you and your family settle in Byram?

Roshunda Harris-Allen: I’ve lived in Jackson; I’ve lived in Clinton, but I really, really liked Byram.

My husband and I adopted my oldest son shortly after we got married, and I birthed three of my own. I have three boys, and my youngest is a girl. Our oldest lives in Atlanta now. He graduated from Terry High School. Our second oldest graduated this year from Terry High. So, all of my children have gone through or are going through the Hinds County School District. It’s been an amazing adventure and an amazing journey here in the state of Mississippi. I love Byram.

JA: What do you love about being in Byram?

Allen: So coming from Detroit, it’s a very busy place. I never experienced growing up in a rural place. I live in the more rural part of Byram. I love having space. I love it not being as congested as the inner city. But also, like I said, the schools out here are great. I don’t have to drive far to the grocery store. I can get there in less than five minutes. Everything is close, and the people are so welcoming here. I’ve really never had any bad experiences.

When my husband and I got married and started growing our family, we looked at the school district out here. We looked at the different neighborhoods. I wanted to be able to raise my children where they can appreciate their home life but also appreciate their neighbors and appreciate the city they live in. I didn’t want them to be in fear of wanting to go to a friend’s house or having to drive somewhere. We haven’t been able to do it as much because of COVID, but just having that feeling of safety.

JA: What about your love for Byram led you to want to serve your community in a political capacity?

Allen: I’ve been involved in numerous organizations over the years. My mother was very active in providing community service, and it was instilled in me. I’m an educator, and I’m always going to be an educator. Me wanting to go into politics is brand new, but the service side is not. And I feel like you have people who have callings. My calling may be to provide services, but I might have another calling to provide services and be a leader for my community. Being a member of all these organizations, I’m already in the community doing it, but why not help lead and enhance the city I live in.

* Allen is a member of the Leadership Team for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Black Caucus; a Board Member for Autism Mississippi, LERS (Lifestyle, Education, and Resource Services), the Justice Training Institute, and the JPS (Jackson Public Schools) Teacher Academy; a Level Leader with the Girl Scouts of America; and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Junior Auxiliary Byram-Terry, the Byram Chamber of Commerce, the Mississippi Association of Educators, the Poor People’s Campaign, and the Higher Education Literacy Council.

JA: How does your experience working in these organizations display your leadership skills and how you would like to tackle issues if elected?

Allen: I’m a mentor for the Harriet Tubman Project at Tougaloo and a grantee for the Institute for the Study of Modern-Day Slavery. And some of my students are from the Byram area. I’ve gotten a chance to meet their parents, and they’ve been able to tell me how I have been an influence for their children since I come from this community. With my students, I always bring in resources. I make sure they have as many experiences as they possibly can.

If they decide they want to go into education, but don’t necessarily want to be in the classroom, I’m going to provide resources for them. I’m going to allow them to have multiple experiences within the communities they want to work in, whether it’s a workshop, going to the Boys & Girls Club and talking to their directors, opportunities to leave the state, or learning from other professionals. That’s what I do. I provide resources and I provide experiences for my students. Becoming a public official, you do the same thing. You provide resources for your community. You advocate for your community.

Some people don’t know what resources we have here. At the end of the day, I’m a teacher; I’m an educator. And that’s what I do. I educate. So, I want to be able to educate the community. I wanted to be able to collaborate with businesses within the community. I want to be able to help share all of the different resources. No one in the city of Byram should have to leave for anything. They should be able to get everything they need within this city, keeping those dollars in the city.

JA: What are three things that you would like to achieve as soon as you’re in office if you get elected?

Allen: Municipal elections have very low turnouts. Oftentimes people complain about who’s in office within your communities, but they don’t vote. So, I do want to increase voter turnout. But I also want to increase voter registration within the city of Byram. We have a lot of people registered to vote. But are you registered to vote in Byram? And if you are, do you go to the polls and vote? I’m a believer of owning the democracy and voting your voice. If you want to have a voice, go to the polls and put your voice on paper. If you vote for the person who shares the same vision as you for your city, you’re going to get not necessarily 100% of what you want to see, but you’re going to get improvements and enhancements.

I would also like to see an increase in parks and recreation activities. Not just for the youth but also for the elderly and middle ages. We do have soccer out here in Byram for the youth. I’m a cheer coach for the Byram Junior Bulldogs, but they’re not directly affiliated with the city. I would love to see that collaboration. I would also like to see other sports like baseball, volleyball, tennis, and sports that aren’t normally seen within an average parks and recreation club or that children don’t necessarily get introduced to in their public school or private school setting.

We could bring in economic dollars if we hosted tournaments. Then, when people come to the city, they will eat and shop. I want to increase economic development. A lot of this can be done through other adventures or activities within the city of Byram. And it’s more to it than just sports. We could have pottery and other art classes.

I want to advocate for the individual families, the communities, and the businesses within the city. A lot of things can fall under advocating. Everyone knows the infrastructure is not perfect. But, I want to advocate for those who need help within their subdivisions or within your areas. We have low-lying areas where there is flooding. I want to be able to help decrease that, being able to get those economic dollars. We can build retention ponds to catch the water drainage.

I’m not here to promise anyone that I can do anything by myself. But what I am here to do is promise that I will do my best to help. That’s why you have to do the grassroots work. That’s why you have to advocate and be that voice for the people in the community and you have to speak on their needs, their wants, and their concerns. If you’re not there for the citizens, there’s no point of being in office. We need to get back to the people in the community, and once we get back to that, then I believe our government will be in a much better place.

If elected Byram Alderman-At-Large, Roshunda Harris-Allen will represent the entire city of Byram. The general election is Tuesday, June 8.

DeAnna enjoys reading and writing and experiencing city life with all its amenities with her fellow citizens. When she’s not uncovering the truth as it needs to be told, she visits museums and spends time with friends and family.