Attention to how politics affects our everyday lives has driven many to get involved with how their local governments operate. Young people looking to invest in their respective cities are no different, and many are starting to be active in their attention. Yusuf Adama is one of those young people in Beloit, Wisconsin.
After moving around as his mother taught across schools in the country, Adama landed in Beloit and has since taken an interest in the potential the city has. Working in the Beloit community gave Adama valuable insight as his efforts introduced him to different perspectives on the city.
“When I was around 19 or 20, I started doing community organizing, canvassing, and volunteering,” Adama said. “Then I ended up getting a job with the Democratic Party. Over the years, I started doing more nonpartisan work, just because the reach was a lot bigger.”
While Beloit may have opportunities and potential for growth, Adama was sure that there could be more of an effort to market those aspects of the city. Disparities in how citizens experience Beloit are an issue at the forefront as people who feel unseen or unheard are often alienated completely from engaging in the community.
Adama speculated that younger voices could provide new ideas and perspectives to help imagine the future of Beloit.
“The biggest inspiration for me trying to do the City Council run is to encourage young people to just get involved,” said Adama. “Be involved in the democratic process, and try to really represent that demographic of Beloit, try to just be present. I’ve been on a lot of committees and in community things, and I’ve been in a lot of rooms where they’re making these decisions.
“There’s not many times where I’m not the only young person there or something along that line. It’s not usually that I’m there in a position of consequence, so even though I can get perspective, I usually can’t affect the change more than telling people about it.”
Questions of who has access to buying land in Beloit and what kind of opportunities or infrastructure is developed in that space will likely have a large impact on Beloit’s trajectory as a city. The possibility of bringing in new and younger voices may bring a higher priority on what could be done to bring interest to the area.
The city budget itself is something that Adama was sure could be considered and discussed as a potential means of shifting development to better fit a growing city’s needs.
“Without even being political or judgmental, we can objectively say the city itself is not run in a way that’s conducive to young people being involved,” Adama said. “I think that is also an expression of the lack of power that you talk about people having.
“I have friends that are older than me that have never voted for anything at all,” Adama adds. “I have friends that don’t take the time to take walks or go out and see the community. I think that’s a huge part of it, too, is people feel very isolated, especially after COVID.”
Adama is certain that focusing on issues that residents care about and developing the community in ways that improve quality of life will get people active and involved. Topics like walkability and better public transportation in a city with many second and third-shift workers could help to support the community and reward people for investing in the city.
“Beloit is about to get around $15 million of ARPA funds, and they’ve been going back and forth on what to do with that,” said Adama. “It just makes you wonder, how much of that budget are they going to be able to leave to help young people develop community centers and things of that nature? Or helping the existing ones already.
“On the flip side, then, young people need to voice that opinion. We need young people to come and say, ‘This is what we want.’ Also, it would be cool if the older people maybe had some of that forethought.”
Reimagining spaces and services that focus on boosting local business, involving individuals in the community, and generating interest in social activity are all pieces of the change Adama thinks the city can take.
Potential ideas from using old business spaces to host community events, to connecting the university in Beloit more to the city are all possibilities Adama discussed as approaches to making change.
“Wisconsin’s biggest problem, in general, is people leaving,” Adama said. “People grow, they get educated here and they leave. I think Beloit is not necessarily unique in the state, but I do think it has some unique dynamics.”
While there is potential to be had in Beloit and across Wisconsin, it will take residents to invest in the future growth and development of their city. Yusuf Adama says that he is sure that new perspectives and approaches will prove to be successful in nurturing that future.
Primary elections are Tuesday, Feb. 21 and the general election is on April 4.