With a knack for listening and passion for both people and politics, Opelika’s Jamie Lowe may remind you of Barack Obama – if the former president had a southern twang.
It’s a comparison the humbly confident Lowe may not accept, but he has built a pretty impressive political resume for himself. A 20-year-old legal mediator at the Lee County Justice Center, Lowe ran for a seat on the Opelika City Council – and he almost won against five other candidates during the municipal election in August. But he lost during the runoff, according to local reports.
He campaigned to represent the district where he was raised. Located in southwest Opelika, the area is home to some of the city’s most underprivileged people, Lowe said. Although he lost an October runoff, he will continue working with the city council to connect people to resources, such as grants to fix dilapidated homes and fund youth organizations.
Lowe found his hunger for law while sitting in on family court cases as an intern for a local judge. After becoming a certified mediator through the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution, he started mediating divorce and family disputes at 19. He has plan on going to law school after completing his double major in political science and psychology at Auburn University, where he is now a junior.
Lowe has claimed many local positions, such as becoming one of the Lee County Young Leaders board of directors, and earned a prestigious national scholarship. But during his climb to success, Lowe said he has navigated around multiple stereotypes as a young Black man. He talks about the consequences of those stereotypes in Reckon’s Young, Southern and Black series, which amplifies the voices of African American southerners who are shaping the region that raised them.
“It would seem to me that people put Black people in boxes way quicker than they would put other individuals in boxes,” he said. “When you’re educated and smart, people say, ‘Well, that’s an exception to the rule.’ He’s an athlete or he’s an exception to the rule. But we are as diverse a group of people as any group of people.”
The South is smothered in stigma, too, Lowe said. Some people stigmatize it as uneducated region, which affect the people who live in the area. And then there is the conversation about racism.
“Racism is definitely present in society, but I think people have a misconception about how bad it is here and how good it is everywhere else,” Lowe said. “It’s created as a cop out. When people have the conversation about race and the South is brought into it, it is just kind of dismissed, ‘Oh, that’s just always been the South. The South is just racist.’”
Viewing the South through a stereotypical lens erases modern-day and historical progress. Many hotbeds of the Civil Rights Movements are in the South and was a precursor to the political movements seen today.
“That is probably the most progressive movement in modern American history and it started here, primarily in Birmingham and Montgomery,” Lowe said. “The conversation has shifted from the South being the drivers of the conversation to being like a punch line and I think that’s unfair especially since the largest population of minorities, particularity Black people, are in the five southern–most states.”
Instead of perpetuating the stereotypes, Lowe believes more energy should be used to back organizations dedicated to increasing voter turnout. He applauded Stacey Abram’s nonprofit organization Fair Fight, which helped deliver Georgia to Joe Biden, flipping a traditionally red state. However, Lowe points out that Alabama had the same success during the special election three years prior.
“In a way, Alabama did it first. In 2017, we elected a Democratic (U.S.) Senator, Doug Jones,” Lowe said. “He did that through the Black vote. Black women turned out in record numbers all over the state. I hope the wave continues.”
But people have to be empowered to vote. American University reported in July that out of a survey of 1,215 Black people, almost 50 percent of Black voters under 30 planned to vote for someone other than Biden and President Donald Trump, were unsure if they would vote or said that they would not vote on Election Day. Researchers pointed out that young Black voters were disengaged with the political process due to their distrust of elected officials.
Lowe believes that voting bloc can grow if candidates would meet voters where they are.
“We have been talking to the same swath of voters since forever,” Lowe said. “People who don’t ordinarily vote aren’t the people who you would go talk to. No one is working for their vote. So no one is making them see how policy affects their lives. So, we really need to make a better conversation about meeting people where they are.”
Lowe wants to see more women, young people and Democrats in office. In fact, he said that is why he ran. He sees a lack of diversity in the ranks. For example, all of the judges are Republican, he said.
“I’m a Democrat,” he said. “That being said, I want this to be a purple state. I think the best decisions are made when we are forced to have conversations with people who disagree with us. It’s hard to do that when everyone in a position of power are from the same party.”
If you’re Black, under 30 and have something to say about the future of the South, email Reckon reporter Starr Dunigan at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach her via Twitter and Facebook. While you’re at it, consider joining the Black Magic Project Facebook group, where we talk about topics concerning Black, southern community and culture.