ALBANY – When Jalen Johnson takes the oath of office as the new Ward II commissioner for the city of Albany, odds are he will be one of the youngest to take office.
Files are not available for the age of previous commissioners when they took office, according to city clerk Sonja Tolbert.
It will likely never be said if Johnson, 22, will be the youngest member of the Albany city commission to serve, but there is no doubt that he will represent a new generation. Longtime Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard is 65 and the rest of council are between 40 and 50.
“I think I’m bringing the Gen Z experience,” he said. “I am able to stand up for people who grew up in the situation I grew up in. Being young, I think, is a good thing in terms of what I can bring to the board.”
Johnson also brings the prospect of growing up in a single-parent home with four other siblings, and his experiences include having to work in a movie theater in order to purchase supplies for the high school marching band.
After earning a criminal justice degree from Valdosta State University, Johnson worked as a legislative assistant for several U.S. officials. He is currently the Director of Popular Advocacy for the Georgia Charter School Association.
“I have that point of view,” he said. “I was the first to go to college. I have the point of view of someone who did not have a silver spoon in his mouth. Everything I achieved I had to work for everything, not expecting someone to give me anything.
One of Johnson’s main goals is to help fight poverty and the declining population in the city.
“I think it should start by giving them lower taxes,” he said of attracting small businesses. “Once they start, they will grow and prosper. As a local governing body, we have to start finding new and brilliant ways (to help people) to start a business.
“We want to see people working. When you build generational wealth, that’s how you start to fight poverty. “
The commissioner-elect identified the good conduct of the city’s business as his top priority and said he was ready to work with his elected colleagues to achieve it. Training students in life skills is something he would like to see happen to ensure their future success.
Recreation, public safety and the pursuit of momentum in downtown Albany are other issues of concern to Johnson.
Referring to the recently opened downtown Cornerstone + Coffee Co., Johnson said the family business is an example of the type of business needed to bring more traffic to the area.
“I’m sure they would like to see more of the similar attractions downtown, which would attract more young people to the city center,” he said.
Despite not taking office until January, Johnson said he already had some idea of the responsibilities of his role.
“As soon as I was elected, I started getting calls… with alleys, with garbage,” he said. “I got calls about speed zones, public works issues, drainage issues. I told people that I would make the necessary calls to resolve their issues.
“I am here to work for the people of Albany and in particular for the people of Quarter II and to run the affairs of the city.”